Parents' Guide to

The Deer Hunter

By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Epic war drama is extremely intense and graphically violent.

Movie R 1978 183 minutes
The Deer Hunter Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 16+

Based on 4 parent reviews

age 15+
age 17+

This title has:

Too much violence

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (4):
Kids say (3):

This movie is both breathtakingly moving and at times a disappointingly self-indulgent and over-ambitious work of cinematic art. It undeniably contains sequences of brilliance, but it also falters and meanders, crying out for a far more ruthless editor. Long deer hunting scenes -- reverent shots of misted mountains and drunk men with guns set against a score of glum hymns -- feel like so much hokey romanticization of hunting and the implied manliness that goes with it. A noble deer goes down (no blood seen) but you can't help wondering are we meant to understand that the men who survive the horrors of war never shoot defenseless animals again? Or do the scenes suggest that if you enjoy hunting, war will be fun? Or do they just set a violent foundation for men heading to war who will themselves be hunted one day? Equally puzzling, why does the camera linger inexplicably on John Cazale, playing a bit of a fool, as he admires his reflection in a car window? What does this add to the story? Much of The Deer Hunter feels like two supporting devices designed to hold up the weighty and brilliant middle. The story is symphonic, told in three movements, marking time through human experience, from high hopes to grim reality. The progression starts with optimism -- a wedding, quitting of jobs, the promise of adventure in the army. Then war rips naivete away leaving frayed threads. A funeral fittingly brings the action to a close.

Cimino, who went over budget and over schedule, would later bring down an entire studio with his next over-budget project, Heaven's Gate. It's his tendency to place moments of cinematic brilliance side by side with well-observed nonessentials that make his films gravely compelling but simultaneously maddening. We tend to forgive all this and ride along with The Deer Hunter and its magnificent emotionalism owing to great performances by a riveting cast. De Niro, Walken, Savage, and Meryl Streep are grippingly watchable at every moment, no matter how questionable the plot point or sketchy the dialogue. Even when the movie is least believable, as when Nik takes a ride with the devil into the underworld that will swallow his life, Walken's immersion in Nik sweeps us into the fiction. The Vietnam sequences are rendered with a rare intensity and artistry -- not a moment of screen time is wasted. As the soldiers suffer agonies, a viewer will find it difficult to forget that the protagonists all went to fight in Vietnam voluntarily. Every horror they experience is tinged with this understanding, underscoring the way that mindless acceptance, no matter how well intended, can sometimes be mistaken for patriotism. Nowhere does the film suggest that even a single character wonders if the war that changed so many lives forever may have been unnecessary or unjustified. When mourning friends sing "God Bless America," the irony is unmistakable.

Movie Details

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