'The Deer Hunter'

Retro Scene: ‘The Deer Hunter’ at Texas Theatre

'The Deer Hunter'
Robert De Niro in 'The Deer Hunter'

Retro Scene is a new, occasional Dallas Film Now feature, highlighting retrospective screenings at area theaters. First up: Michael Cimono’s controversial Vietnam-era dramatic epic.

Coming three years after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam and admitted defeat, ‘The Deer Hunter’ was part of a mini-wave of films produced by the New Hollywood about a war that cost tens of thousands of lives, encompassing the documentary-style ‘Hearts and Minds,’ the romantic travails of ‘Coming Home,’ and the allegorical fantasy of ‘Apocalypse Now,’ among others.

Directed by Michael Cimino, who had debuted with the modest, impressive ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’ in 1974, ‘The Deer Hunter’ boasted a cast that seems even more impressive with the passage of time. Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, and Christopher Walken play friends from a small town in Pennsylvania who head off to serve in Vietnam, with Meryl Streep among those left behind to deal with the wreckage of their lives after they return. The performances are superb, and can still be savored for their sheer bravado.

While the sequences set in Vietnam are the ones that probably linger longest in memory, it’s the opening scenes setting up the characters that display Cimino’s artistic intent. You may not like where the story eventually ends up — and I’d agree that the Russian roulette scenes take things much too far, as far as literal-minded unreality goes — but there is great power in the contrasts drawn between the rituals of religion and routine, the sheer beauty of a peaceful landscape, and the horrors of war.

‘The Deer Hunter’ screens tonight at the Texas Theatre, and again on Saturday and Sunday. All screenings in 35mm. (Details here.)

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