The Deer Hunter


The Deer Hunter

Critics 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.



Total Count: 68


Audience Score

User Ratings: 103,329
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Movie Info

The Deer Hunter moves from the steel mills outside of Pittsburgh to the mountains of Pennsylvania to the jungles of Vietnam as it explores the upheaval faced by a tight-knit group of Russian Americans when three of their number enlist to serve in Vietnam.


John Cazale
as Stanley
Chuck Aspegren
as Peter "Axel" Axelrod
Shirley Stoler
as Steven's Mother
Mady Kaplan
as Axel's Girl
Amy Wright
as Bridesmaid
Mary Ann Haenel
as Stan's Girl
Richard Kuss
as Linda's Father
Joe Grifasi
as Bandleader
Victoria Karnafel
as Sad-Looking Girl
Jack Scardino
as Cold Old Man
Joseph Strand
as Bingo Caller
Paul D'Amato
as Sergeant
Jane Colette Disko
as Girl Checker
Michael Wollet
as Stock Boy
Robert Beard
as World War Veteran
Joe Dzizmba
as World War Veteran
Tom Becker
as Doctor
Dale Burroughs
as Embassy Guard
Parris Hicks
as Sergeant
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News & Interviews for The Deer Hunter

Critic Reviews for The Deer Hunter

All Critics (68) | Top Critics (15) | Fresh (64) | Rotten (4)

  • Stark and haunting, and still unbearable to watch at times, The Deer Hunter remains a powerful movie experience.

    Feb 27, 2019 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • To my mind, The Deer Hunter is a major achievement in American movies. And I fervently hope that the American public won't vote me wrong.

    Dec 17, 2018 | Full Review…
  • While it's fair to argue that The Deer Hunter contains moments of brilliance, the film as a whole is undone by its length.

    Oct 7, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • The movie won five Oscars and, if anything, improves with age.

    Mar 2, 2015 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

    Kate Muir

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • It has no more moral intelligence than the Clint Eastwood action pictures, yet it's an astonishing piece of work, an uneasy mixture of violent pulp and grandiosity, with an enraptured view of common life -- poetry of the commonplace.

    Mar 2, 2015
  • In trying to measure the devastating impact of Vietnam on the lives of three American soldiers, Cimino brings home the true horror of that senseless conflict in a way that the 6 O'Clock News never could.

    Feb 18, 2015 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Deer Hunter

  • May 23, 2014
    "You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A deer's gotta be taken with one shot. I try to tell people that but they don't listen" Released in 1978, only three years after the official end of the Vietnam war, Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" seemed as if it may have been too soon for the American psyche. It was a surprising box-office hit but was also one of the most controversial, major theatrical releases about America's involvement in the war. It went on to receive 9 Academy Award nominations (winning 5 - including Best Picture and Best Director). Despite this, the backlash was pretty vehement. It received criticism from the likes of Jane Fonda and John Wayne who in his last public appearance had to present it with it's Best Picture award even though he wasn't fond of the film. These criticisms came in many forms but for as many critics as it's had, there were also a great number who considered it to be another American classic. Michael (Robert DeNiro), Stevie (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are among a group of friends who live and work in the steel mill town of Clairton, Pennsylvania. They spend their time getting drunk and going deer hunting before they are enlisted in the airborne infantry of Vietnam. What was once a slow-paced and fun-filled life is shoved into the stark reality of warfare and how their experiences change their lives forever. Clocking in at just over three hours, "The Deer Hunter" is a film of length. However, it's one that never overstays it's welcome as Cimino wisely works within a three act structure - book-ending the war with marriage and death. He may take his time and linger long on shots but it never gets boring. To view it as simply another Vietnam film is to entirely miss the point also. If it is to be viewed in any way, it should be as a commentary on American disillusionment and it's loss of innocence at this time. It's intention is not focus on the war itself but on the aftermath and the impact war can have on the lives of ordinary working people. In fact, the scenes that take place in Vietnam only amount to a very small portion of the film, overall. Ultimately, it's a character study that's only heightened by the 50 minute wedding sequence at the beginning of the film. Many grumble about this being too indulgent but it's integral that we get to know these characters in order to fully understand them. It's during the wedding reception that they come across a Green Beret who has just finished his Tour of Duty; they buy him a drink and take offence when all he has to tell them about the war is... "Fuck it!". This perfectly sums up the naivete of these young men as they seem to have a romanticised idea of war and have absolutely no idea of what is to become them. Following this, a bunch of them go on a deer hunting trip where we again see the dynamic of the group and get to know each of them more personally. Suddenly, we are then thrust into the chaos of Vietnam and it's not before long that the films iconic and controversial Russian roulette scene takes place. This is a scene that has received much criticism in not only being claimed as inaccurate - as there was no evidence to suggest that any such atrocities took place during the conflict - but for being racist in it's sadistic stereotype of the Viet Cong captors. These criticisms are justifiable to an extent but, personally, I think the critics have taken it far too literally. If viewed as a metaphor for the senselessness of war and the inhumanity of man during wartime struggles then it's entirety fitting to the films themes and says more about an initiation into manhood. It was literally minutes before this powerful scene that DeNiro's Michael and Walken's Nick were discussing how a deer should be killed with "one shot" and now (ironically) they must face a similar fate. This game of chance is the catalyst that changes the dynamic of the three principle characters (the other being John Savage's Stevie) and further adds to the character development that was so playfully and innocently displayed in the opening wedding sequence or the camaraderie of the deer hunt. It's purpose is not to be racist but to capture the extreme pressure that soldiers face in conflict. In the film's final act, some of them return home only to realise that they're traumatised as they struggle to fit back into society. There have been claims that it doesn't take an overly pro or anti stance towards the conflict but I struggle to see how. This was one was of the first films to challenge the perspective on Vietnam. The likes of "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket" were praised for such honesty and I believe this deserves the same credibility. "The Deer Hunter" is, undoubtedly, epic filmmaking and despite your political interpretation, there's no denying the power of it's emotionally devastating narrative. It's unlikely that Cimino will be able to deliver a work of this magnitude ever again. He tried and failed in 1980 with "Heaven's Gate" (bankrupting United Artists Studio in the process) but his scope and ambition here deserves the utmost respect. So too does the work of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond for his astounding ability to capture both the expansive landscapes of Pennsylvania and the war ravaged mountainous villages of Vietnam. The actors are also very strong and committed throughout. This would be the last performance of the great John Cazale - before his untimely death to cancer - and the first notable one from Meryl Streep, who brings a touching vulnerability to her supporting role. Walken (who won a Supporting Actor Oscar) is a marvel and deservedly made a name for himself in the process. As good as they are, though, it's DeNiro who anchors the film in a enigmatic display of stoicism. Another deserved Oscar nomination came his way and even though this is a film that many omit from DeNiro's plethora of magnificent performances throughout the 70's and 80's, it happens to be one of his strongest and most unsung. DeNiro apparently described his role as one of the most physical and exhausting that he's ever done, and it's easy to see why. Every emotional, physical and mental abuse that he seems to be suffering is perfectly and gruellingly displayed onscreen. The 1970's are well known for producing some of the finest experiences in cinema and "The Deer Hunter" can, proudly, consider itself one of one them. It's marvellously structured, harrowingly vivid and so grand and ambitious that it thoroughly deserves it's epic status. Truly one of the best of it's decade. Mark Walker
    Mark W Super Reviewer
  • Jul 25, 2013
    One of the early Vietnam films for canon, it sets the stage for genuine investigations into the lives of soldiers who served and their uncomfortable return home.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Aug 17, 2012
    A depressing work of fiction that is not as fiction as you may think. The Deer Hunter starting one of my favorite actors Robert DeNiro touches on disturbing and violent topics that need to be touched on. This film basically shows the nature of man. The harsh of war. In a way it could be anti war but it's mostly anti human nature. I went into this knowing it was a war film. But the first part of the film dragged on a bit too much. But the wedding scenes where necessary. It was meant to show us how lucky we are living in America. The purpose of the theme was to show us we need to be graceful to be living in such a great country. That's where the ending comes in play, when they where singing "God Bless America". There was a minor theme expressed in this film that I did not like. That is the theme of "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me". I do not believe in this. This theme was expressed threw the character Stan. The theme of Russian Roulette may be disturbing to some viewers so this is not for everyone. But it does add to the theme's that I have already pointed out. The last theme I would like to address is the hunting theme. It was intertwined very well with the theme of war. I don't want to spoil anything but I will say that the taking part in war changes and develops our characters into different people. There is one scene involving a deer that addresses this theme perfectly. Robert DeNiro is one of my favorite actors. He gave a great performance but overall not his best work yet. I did like his image he portrayed. Everything from the cloths he was wearing to his motivations. All the other actors where great as well. They each projected there own personalities like pros. The script was good of course. You can already tell I like the writing by the themes that where told in this. All the themes all the characters are mixed together so well that it works. Brilliant direction, the actors where given good directions on how to interact and move the plot forward. It takes good directing talent to make the characters make it all connect. The costume design gives this astonishing production values. You will feel like you are actually there. All the technical aspects gave this a authentic fell to the Vietnam war. If you like the best war films then this is for you because it is one of the best war films.
    Eduardo T Super Reviewer
  • Jun 19, 2012
    The Deer Hunter is an iconic '70s film that has not aged well. The story follows a group of friends who go off to the Vietnam War and how it affects them. Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage form a powerful cast, but their performances feel a bit forced. The storytelling is particularly weak and unfocused; spending far too much time establishing characters and far too little time developing them. Yet, The Deer Hunter has its moments and is trying (though inadequately) to say something important about the effects of war.
    Dann M Super Reviewer

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