One of several 1978 films dealing with the Vietnam War (including Hal Ashby's Oscar-winning Coming Home), Michael Cimino's epic second feature The Deer Hunter was both renowned for its tough portrayal of the war's effect on… More One of several 1978 films dealing with the Vietnam War (including Hal Ashby's Oscar-winning Coming Home), Michael Cimino's epic second feature The Deer Hunter was both renowned for its tough portrayal of the war's effect on American working class steel workers and notorious for its ahistorical use of Russian roulette in the Vietnam sequences. Structured in five sections contrasting home and war, the film opens in Clairton, PA, as Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Stan (John Cazale, in his last film) celebrate the wedding of their friend Steve (John Savage) and go on a final deer hunt before the men leave for Vietnam. Mike treats hunting as a test of skill, lecturing Stan about the value of "one shot" deer slaying and brushing off Nick's urgings to appreciate nature's beauty. As Mike ruminates post-hunt, the film cuts to the horror of Vietnam, where the men are captured by Vietcong soldiers who force Mike and Nick to play Russian roulette for the V.C.'s amusement. Mike turns the game to his advantage so they can escape captivity, but the men are permanently scarred by the episode. Steve loses his legs; Nick vanishes in the Saigon Russian roulette parlors. Mike returns alone to Clairton a changed man, as he rejects the killing of the deer hunt and finds solace with Nick's old girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep). Disgusted by the antics of his male cohorts at home, Mike decides to bring Steve back from a veterans' hospital, and he returns to Saigon to find Nick. As Saigon falls, Mike discovers how far gone Nick is; the survivors gather in Clairton for a funeral breakfast, singing an impromptu rendition of "God Bless America."
Consensus: Its greatness is blunted by its length and one-sided point of view, but the film's weaknesses are overpowered by Michael Cimino's sympathetic direction and a series of heartbreaking performances from Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, and Christopher Walken.