It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" is a three-hour movie in three major movements. It is a progression from a wedding to a funeral. It is the story of a group of friends. It is the record of how the war in Vietnam entered several lives and altered them terribly forever. It is not an anti-war film. It is not a pro-war film. It is one of the most emotionally shattering films ever made. It begins with men at work, in the furnace of the steel mills in a town somewhere in Pennsylvania. The klaxon sounds, the shift is over, the men go down the road to a saloon for a beer. They sing "I Love You Bay-bee" along with the jukebox. It is still morning on the last day of their lives that will belong to them before Vietnam.
The movie takes its time with these opening scenes, with the steel mill and the saloon and especially with the wedding and the party in the American Legion Hall. It's important not simply that we come to know the characters, but that we feel absorbed into their lives; that the wedding rituals and rhythms feel like more than just ethnic details. They do.
The opening movement is lingered over; it's like the wedding celebration in "The Godfather," but celebrated by hard-working people who have come to eat, dance and drink a lot and wish luck to the newlyweds and to say good-by to the three young men who have enlisted in the Army. The party goes on long enough for everyone to get drunk who is ever going to, and then the newlyweds drive off and the rest of the friends go up into the mountains to shoot some deer. There is some Hemingwayesque talk about what it means to shoot deer: We are still at a point where shooting something is supposed to mean something.
Then Vietnam occupies the screen, suddenly, with a wall of noise, and the second movement of the film is about the experiences that three of the friends (Robert De Niro, John Savage and Christopher Walken) have there. At the film's center comes one of the most horrifying sequences ever created in fiction, as the three are taken prisoner and forced to play Russian roulette while their captors gamble on who will, or will not, blow out his brains.