Robert De Niro received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Michael Vronsky in The Deer Hunter.
Robert De Niro adds to the trend of sorts this year in that he again plays sort of an average man who simply gets into a very much less than average situation.This is actually a very different character from every other nominated character for De Niro who are usually far more extroverted or far more on the edge of insanity like his characters in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
Michael in this film despite basically the leader of a group of friends tends to be the most reserved of them. De Niro actually has an incredible challenge throughout the film, and particularly at the beginning becuase Michael is not always front and center even though he is indeed the lead character of the film. De Niro must realize Micheal through smaller moments, which he does with a rather quiet performance.
De Niro begins as Michael in a very introverted fashion. He establishes Micheal as the leader easily as he is always the one who seemingly has the most command, in a situation where command is not really necessary. De Niro always suggests this an entirely subtle fashion, he does merely by his manner on screen in which he does with an absolute easy which is perfect for Michael semi form of leadership of the group.
De Niro creates Micheal whole personality in an always realistic fashion, which stays consistent throughout the film. Micheal really is not a guy who talks all that much, and does keep to himself in whole lot of ways. De Niro does not pain Michael though as some sort of outcast though, since he is in this group of friends he obviously isn't but rather pains him as normal man who just prefers to keep a lot of his life to himself.
What the deal with Michael, is carefully handled by De Niro in some key scenes early on, and always in rather subtle fashions. De Niro always expresses all of Michael almost silently much of the time, as Michael is not a man of many words. Michael likes his friends but is no nonsense in his treatment of them when he feels they are acting foolishly. De Niro has the appropriate rough and natural coldness that has the perfect natural quality that fits Michael.
Michael is not always entirely introverted and their are the small moments with his best friend Nick (Christopher Walken). The moments between Nick and Michael are essential to the film, and De Niro and Walken are completely up to the task creating an authentic and effective dynamic that realistically shows their deep friendship they have, in the way they both understand each other despite their differences in attitudes. It really is not the warmest of friendships, but yet it is one that is honest and appropriately creates a pivotal aspect of the film.
It should be noted really as much as possible how natural of a characterization De Niro keeps with Michael, he always makes everything he does within his character in a realistic way, never really taking the urge to act out more, in order to bring needless attention to himself. For example Michael is introverted in many ways but in the wedding scene he runs in the streets stripping, well one would say that is not introverted. De Niro manages to make it Michael nonetheless, explained by his drunkenness, De Niro is able to keep even something more flamboyant as this true to his character becuase he does not overact, despite a scene like this being extremely easy to overact in.
After the initial part of the film, there are the Vietnam scenes where De Niro naturally must give a less restrained performance, particularly when they are forced to play Russian Roulette by the Prison camp guards they are imprisoned in. The fact De Niro portrayed the earlier scenes quieter makes these scenes in fact more powerful, because the now less controlled Michael is quite clearly on edge because of the terrible situation they have become in.
De Niro probably gives one the greatest moments in his career as an actor actually in the pivotal Russian roulette scene where Nick and Michael are forced to play. De Niro is simply incredible in this scene, where he gives a performance that simply must be watched. He flawlessly, combines the various emotions of the scene to make it unbearably realistic. De Niro has the perfect intensity of emotions from sadness to anger, and even happiness. The reaction of both Walken and De Niro when they achieve their goal is simply incredible, it is one of the best moments in acting period.
After the Vietnam scenes Michael comes home, and De Niro carefully portrays how the war has changed him. There is not this overwhelming difference, that has made Michael a different man completely, instead De Niro portrays Michael as still Michael certainly but now with this haunted quality about him, a haunted quality that shows that Michael certainly was deeply wounded by experiences, as well as changed in his views toward life interestingly enough losing that little bit of coldness he had before. It is subtle transition that works finely with De Niro consistently true to life performance.
There is not a single moment I can fault De Niro in the entire film. He never fails to bring Michael fully to life, and bring out the power of various scenes in the film in usually underplayed fashions. I think this particularly true when he visits his other friend Steven (John Savage) in the hospital, as well as his final climatic moment in Vietnam. De Niro always brings out the strength in these moments, in the hospital scene through his quiet heartfelt reaction to seeing his friend, and to his final scene where his pleading creates one of the most heartbreaking moments in film. This is simply a great performance from De Niro that is subtle characterization, which meets every challenge he meets throughout his very difficult part.