Sunday, May 28, 2006

Streepathon Stop #1: The Deer Hunter

"Michael...?? ...oh, MICHAEL!!!" -Linda

Time: 1978 (2nd film)

Role: Linda, longsuffering war fiancee

Awards: 1st oscar nom, 1st GG nom; NSFC win (best supporting actress)

Fun Fact #1: This was Streep's first time working with Robert DeNiro. The two went on to work together again in Falling in Love (1984, not in the Streepathon) and Marvin's Room (1996, in the Streepathon), and are currently slated to reunite on the upcoming film First Man.

Fun Fact #2: This was the first of three of Streep's films to win the oscar for Best Picture. The second was Kramer vs. Kramer the following year, and the third was Out of Africa in 1985.

Fun Fact #3: Streep began dating co-star John Cazale during filming, but the relationship ended forever when Cazale died of bone cancer in March 1978, before their film was released. Streep would go on to marry sculptor Don Gummer in September of that same year, and the two remain married to this day.

Revealing photos: Streep laughs awkwardly as DeNiro gives her dirty looks (Robert DeNiro is mighty creepy, no?)

...but they must eventually have gotten close or else she wouldn't have worked with him again.

Film Review: The Deer Hunter is one harrowing film. Focusing on the lives and life changes of three friends who served in Vietnam, the film is a sobering portrait of war and what it does to the psyche. But the film is not about war. It's about people; it's about character development.

At the beginning of the film, we meet three friends - Michael, Nick, and Steven - who live in small town America and are preparing to go off to war. Steve (John Savage) gets married to a local girl just before they leave, and the others attend the wedding. Nick (Christopher Walken) proposes to his girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep), who accepts. Michael (Robert DeNiro) is not with anyone (though he seems to have a thing for Linda). He is rather stoic and surly; he is a deer hunter, the best hunter of the the group of friends, and will become their de facto leader and anchor during the war. The first hour or so is spent introducing us to the characters and their simple, small-town lives.

Then, at the start of the second hour, we see the men in the heat of battle, and the impact is jarring. Only one of the film's three hours is devoted to actual Vietnam war footage, but that one hour is enough to make you never want to be there... strong stuff... some very disturbing sequences. The three men endure fighting, torture, wilderness, etc. all the while trying to stay together, and make it home. Unfortunately, they don't all make it. The one who makes it back in the best shape (at least physically), is Michael, who returns to his town a different person.

The final hour is devoted to the fallout in these characters' emotional lives, and is no less harrowing. Some surprises are in store. No one is unchanged by the war. The ending is somewhat unsatisfying, but it's clearly meant to be that way. I myself didn't enjoy this film, per se, but of course it's not meant to be enjoyed. It's meant to be experienced... and frankly, given that I'm not predisposed to liking war films (or Robert DeNiro), the chances of my enjoying it were nill.

But regardless, I certainly respect it, and have no beef with its having won its year's oscar for Best Picture. When I saw it, it seemed a bit too long and drawn out, and not involving enough emotionally... but it's already improving in the memory, even if I'd never want to see it again.

Streep Review: Well... needless to say, this was not Streep's greatest performance. It was a great perf, don't get me wrong, but there was only so much she could do with the longsuffering girlfriend role, even if the character was more layered/conflicted than this type of role usually affords. Unlike more recent entries into the canon of longsuffering women, Streep's Linda was not definted entirely in terms of her man... she was defined more in terms of "manhood" in general, as someone different than the men in the film. She was basically the "token woman."

Still, Streep did some great things with the role. It's not much when stacked up against her later work, but Linda's a strong character, considering. To reveal more about her, I'd have to reveal more plot, which I don't want to do. Suffice it to say, Streep was good here... the film was not Streep-centric, of course, making it an awkward beginning to the marathon... but it was a good reminder of the humble beginnings from which La Streep sprung. Little did they know that the best was yet to come (and, perhaps, still is).

Next in the marathon: The French Lieutenant's Woman

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