Take a deep breath and pull the trigger – the Russian roulette sequences featured in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter are some of the most powerful scenes ever to grace a screen. The 1978 Vietnam War epic makes for a deserved Lockdown Rewatch.
Masterfully directed by Michael Cimino and starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage (all of whom deliver superb performances) as three steelworkers turned soldiers in the Vietnam War. The picture may not be historically accurate (there were no recorded cases of Russian roulette, after all) but it succeeded in powerfully portraying the tension, horror and trauma experienced in war The film received a very limited release at the end of the year, (purely to qualify for the Academy Awards) before releasing wide after the ceremony in February — their strategy paid off as the film took home five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (for Walken).
But did you know…
1) The shoot in Thailand was just as dangerous as the war they were portraying on screen. “Back then that country was far from stable, and armed refugees and military groups were running wild”, said John Savage. One particular scene almost went south and could have been the end of the production – it sees De Niro, Savage and Walken hanging from a bridge, and during production, an army helicopter accidentally cut through the metal safety wires. Walken was able to pull himself up and into the helicopter in time, while De Niro and Savage were forced to drop down 60ft into the River Kwai, narrowly missing the rocks before they were saved by the production crew.
2) During one of the film’s Russian roulette scenes, director Michael Cimino convinced Walken to actually spit in De Niro’s face. De Niro was so taken aback and furious, he almost left the set. He later admitted that “it worked” and that they “got the reaction the scene needed.”