THE DEER HUNTER (Michael Cimino)
When considering THE DEER HUNTER, the word “monumental” comes to mind. Word spread early during the making of this sprawling Vietnam War epic that something special was afoot. Upon its release, the praise was immediate. Most were knocked on their asses. A long build-up and a riveting aftermath are the bookends to the initial “russian roulette” scene that lies at the core of this masterpiece. So expertly directed throughout, many wondered of relative newcomer Cimino, “Just who is this guy?”
Cimino was never to repeat this success, critically or commercially. Not even close. In fact, the fiasco of his next film, HEAVEN’S GATE, has often been cited as causing the near-collapse of the studio that backed it. But THE DEER HUNTER stands alone and looms large. My guess is that it always will.
MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (Alan Parker)
A big success in its day, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS holds up well thanks to the sheer earnestness of its production. Brad Davis’ visceral performance as the unlucky American enduring the nightmare of a Turkish prison for attempting to bring some hashish back to the States, is the driving force for this unusually effective film. John Hurt shines as a lifer doing his best to adjust. The Giorgio Moroder score was a big deal in its day, and it does help to ratchet up the tension at times.
STRAIGHT TIME (Ulu Grosbard)
Dustin Hoffman was set to direct this one originally, but got cold feet. He enlisted his buddy, Grosbard (who had helmed the intermittently interesting failure WHO IS HARRY KELLERMAN…..(1971) with Hoffman) to step in. Michael Mann’s uncredited script of a lifetime crook unable to adapt to the straight-and-narrow is given an unsentimental and moving treatment. Hoffman is subdued and superb in a film that didn’t get the attention it deserved. Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey and M. Emmet Walsh are excellent. Also features a stunning debut by Theresa Russell.