review for The Deer Hunter on AllMovie

The Deer Hunter (1978)
by Lucia Bozzola review

Realizing that the three-hour film would need to be a prestige event to draw public interest, Universal followed Grease producer Allan Carr's advice and opened The Deer Hunter for one week for Academy Award consideration in December 1978, putting off the national opening until February 1979. The gambit succeeded. The film won the Best Picture prize from the New York Film Critics' Circle and got nine Academy Award nominations as it went into national release, including Best Picture, Best Director, and acting nods for Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep. The movie went on to beat Coming Home for Best Picture and Best Director and also picked up Oscars for Walken's performance, Sound, and Editing. As the film's acclaim grew, it also aroused objections to the depiction of the Vietcong as racist from, among others, Coming Home star Jane Fonda, as well as criticisms from numerous Vietnam reporters that director Michael Cimino was ill-informed about real Vietnam experience, not having served in the war himself. Regardless of the disputes over the veracity of the Russian roulette scenes, they create an indelible metaphor for warfare and its atmosphere of sudden, random violence. While the press notes suggest that the final song was meant to be affirmative, the searing sense of loss that builds up throughout the film renders it profoundly ambiguous. This combination of ambivalence, brutality, and controversy echoed American culture's experience of Vietnam, making The Deer Hunter an even more telling cultural artifact than may have been intended. The film's awards and acclaim manifested Hollywood's willingness finally to reckon one way or another with a war that had been all but absent from movie screens while it was happening, leading the way for such later films as Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). With the prizes and dissension, The Deer Hunter became a popular hit, enabling Cimino to have full artistic freedom for his next film, the financially disastrous Heaven's Gate.