Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Deer Hunter (4) vs. The Green Berets (13)


It would be hard to find a Vietnam War movie with a better cast than “The Deer Hunter” although a couple of the stars (Walken and Streep) were early in their careers. Walken deserved the Best Supporting Actor award he won. He is absolutely amazing. DeNiro anchors the film although the film is something of an ensemble effort. He earned a Best Actor nomination. John Cazales is his usual solid self in what was sadly his last role. Streep clearly shows why she became a superstar. There is not a weak performance to be found. A+

“The Green Berets” is a John Wayne movie, ‘nuff said. Wayne plays Wayne and this is the movie that cemented his reputation as the iconic American warrior as far as Vietnam grunts were concerned. Wayne is pretty subdued and does not dominate, which may have been a mistake because the rest of the cast is weak. David Janssen embarrasses himself as the cynical newsman. He spends most of his scenes with his chin on his neck. Jim Hutton is almost as bad as the stereotype scrounger and comic relief. The rest of the cast is low rent with exception of the super cool Aldo Ray as a tough sergeant. C

The Deer Hunter = 10
The Green Berets = 7


“The Deer Hunter” is different than all the other movies in the tournament. The plot is divided into three parts. The first is an extended wedding sequence that establishes the main characters and the steel town atmosphere they are leaving to go to the Nam. In Vietnam, they are scarred in different ways by a stint as VC prisoners. Two of them return home to a world they no longer fit in while the third remains in Saigon playing Russian roulette. The themes are hammered in. War impacts not just the warriors. There are different types of wounds – physical and mental. Cimino comments on working class patriotism and male bonding in a knowing way. B

“The Green Berets” is essentially a Western set in the East. Wayne’s Col. Kirby heads off to S. Vietnam with a Green Beret unit and is charged with defending a strategic hamlet / base camp. Newsman Beckworth is in tow to evolve from dove to hawk. The film features an Alamo-like defense of the camp and a behind enemy lines mission to kidnap a VC general. Numerous clichés are thrown in to hammer the theme that the Communists are taking. D

The Deer Hunter = 18
The Green Berets = 13


“The Deer Hunter” has very little combat in it so it is hard to judge this aspect of the film. I almost did not put it in the tournament for this reason, but I could not leave out one of the seminal Vietnam War movies and a movie that won Best Picture. If we stretch to call the scenes where Mike, Nick, and Steven are forced to play Russian roulette combat scenes, we do get one spectacular scene where Mike engineers the trio’s escape. I’m going to have to go with a default C in this category. C

“The Green Berets” certainly has a higher quantity of combat. The VC assault on the camp is one of the longest battle scenes in the tournament. It’s basically your human wave variety similar to what you see in “Siege of Firebase Gloria” and just as laughable in spots. There’s a very fake helicopter crash and an equally faux tower collapse. The enemy deaths are rote and the American deaths are melodramatic. Just like in a Western, the cavalry arrives in the form of Puff the Magic Dragon with its Gatling guns. Any red-blooded American commie-hater got his fill of action from the film and the movie was popular partly because of the combat. C

The Deer Hunter = 25
The Green Berets = 20


“The Deer Hunter” is bipolar when it comes to realism because the home front scenes seem true to the environment of a steel town in Pennsylvania and the Greek Orthodox culture. The trio that go off to war are all volunteers and patriotic. The movie reflects the attitudes of the “silent majority” through the first half of the war. The movie vividly contrasts their relationships with family and friends from before they leave to when they come back. On the other hand, the scenes in Vietnam have little foundation in reality. There is no evidence that the VC forced prisoners to play Russian roulette. It makes for great drama, but is ahistorical. Also the time frame is completely messed up. Nick would have been playing the game for years before Mike finds him. That’s some incredible luck. C

“The Green Berets” is a realistic view of the war if you are looking at it with hawkish glasses on and the year is 1968. If not, it is a anti-commie, pro-Saigon propaganda piece. It is as realistic as a 1940s Western. In fact, it is a 1940s Western! Hell, the camp is nicknamed “Dodge City”. I’m no fan or apologist for the VC, but they get trashed unfairly in this movie. They are punji-staking, booby-trapping, civilian-torturing, ugly-ass, barbarians. Oh, and they kill the cute little mascots dog! With that said, the big battle is not too far from an assault by VC forces in a Tet Offensive scenario. As far as the mission to kidnap the VC general, give me a break! It does give us the hilarious visual of Wayne escaping in a French Citroen. D

The Deer Hunter = 32
The Green Berets = 26


I have to admit that I had not seen “The Green Berets” since it came out. I had avoided it partly because of the incredibly bad reputation it has acquired over the years. It has one of the iconic bad movie moments with the sun sinking in the east in the final shot. On second viewing, it is not as bad as its reputation. There are some LOL moments, but overall it is a decent Western that makes the mistake of trying to be historical and relevant to the concurrent events it covers. It also takes an untenable position on the nature of the war. “The Deer Hunter” is on the other end of the spectrum. It is art! Flawed art. Slightly bloated art. It deserved the Best Picture award and you would have to be Rush Limbaugh to think “The Green Berets” should have won this match.

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