Christopher Walken won his Oscar from his first Oscar nomination for portraying Nikonar 'Nick' Chevotarevich in The Deer Hunter.
A very important of part in the film is the dynamic between the friends and Walken makes Nick role in the group rather distinct. He is separate from the rest of the guys because he does not fool around nearly as much as they do, and has the respect of Michael because of this. He though is different from Michael because he seems to stand as part of the group more than Michael, and tries to understand and frankly bring more warmth among the group than Michael ever does. Walken realizes this understanding of Nick very well but not overplaying it. Walken achieves Nick point in the group realistically and honestly makes Nick a goodhearted man.
Walken also finds just the right tone in which to portray Nick's two pivotal relationships early within the film. Firstly Nick's relationship with his girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep). The two actors are effective because they don't lay on the romantic elements two thickly. Instead they show a simpler but believable one between the two. There is clearly a love created between the characters by Walken and Streep. It is a quiet unassuming romance but there is no doubt left through the performances that through this quiet unassuming fashion they most certainly care for each other undoubtedly.
Interestingly enough the second relationship is even more important which is Nick's friendship with Michael. Again Walken and De Niro very much downplay the friendship it is not this overly warm display of love for one another, but there is clearly an unmistakable bond between the two nevertheless. The two show quietly a history between the two men one of understanding between the two and a great deal of mutual respect. There dynamic is realized perfectly by both actors as they are not only friends but also there is a just the right difference between the two shown through Nick's greater degree of empathy.
Walken though truly shines as with De Niro in the gut wrenching Russian Roulette scenes. I said De Niro was incredible in these scenes and Walken matches him every step of the way. When they finally play one on one in the prison camp Walken is absolutely amazing as Nick. He absolutely brings the fear and intensity of the situation to life it is chilling almost unbearable because De Niro and Walken never have a false moment in either of their performances. Walken in one single reaction probably has, and I mean this, one of the greatest single reactions in film.
The moment has him holding the gun to his head with a very good likeliness that it will kill him with a fatal. Walken before he fires shows us the horrible terror Nick has over his chances of death as well as just the sickness and anger over being in the horrendous situation. He has one of the most heartbreaking moments when he finally pulls the trigger, and his reaction of fear to an incredible relief as well as absolute joy could not have possibly have been more powerful. He brings right with Nick in that moment and it is both terrifying and absolutely wonderful moment.
After this scene and a separation from his friends Nick suffers a serious mental breakdown. This is actually in a very fast succession to his breakdown caused by the traumatic stress faced before. Walken though again turns it into a reality. His breakdown scene is terrific, Walken quietly shows the pain absolutely overwhelm Nick that he can't help but continuing to think of the horrors of what he faced and went through that causes him to fall apart an become almost a shell of a man as to avoid the pain of his memories. This is made especially disheartening when compared brighter Nick seen earlier, because Walken absolutely makes them the same person who has undergone far too much pain.
There is a great deal of time when we don't see Walken in the film but we feel his loss almost every moment he is not on screen because of his impact earlier in the film. When we finally do see Walken again Nick is only worse a true shell of a man completely lost, and Walken is absolutely chilling showing Nick's loss of fear of death. Their final scene together De Niro and Walken are again incredible. Walken in the scene stays almost the same throughout as Michael pleads to Nick. When Walken finally does react in just the slightest indication of the old Nick it is an absolutely perfect moment that ends Walken's pitch perfect performance. It really is a role that is only challenges yet Walken never fails to meet every one and turn Nick into an unforgettable tragic character that stays with you long after watching the film.