Sunday, 6 October 2013

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 1978: John Cazale and John Savage in The Deer Hunter

John Cazale and John Savage did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Stan and Steven respectively in The Deer Hunter.

John Cazale and John Savage both play two men in the group of friends, most of whom work at a steel mill, in a small town in Pennsylvania. We meet the group just before two big changes in their lives will occur. One being that one of them, Steven, will be getting married, and that Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), and Steven will be going to Vietnam. Cazale and Savage both do take the back seat to the primary relationship between Michael and Nick and it is no surprise that De Niro and Walken were the Oscar nominated actors. They do both have specific purposes within the film and stand out in their own ways during the film.

Something that the Deer Hunter does so well is paint a very realistic portrait of a group of long time friends. All the actors have a very natural chemistry between each other and their scenes together are very special as they really suggest a long history between all of them through the unique dynamics they all share. Interestingly Savage and Cazale can of are at two ends of things with Savage playing Steven the groom to be as really the one who is the easiest to get along with. Savage has an effective understated gentleness with his performance that portrays Steven as just a nice guy who would be alright hanging around all the guys, and that he would alright with marrying a woman whose been impregnated by another man.

John Cazale, giving his final film performance, plays Stan the guy who is easiest not to get along with. Cazale, just like Savage, gets the nature of the guy across very effectively. Cazale once again plays a pathetic character, but Cazale of course does not feel like he is treading any water with his characterization of Stan. What Cazale does really well with Stan is make it so most of the time he is just alright in being around. He is one of the guys like the rest of them and is never totally out of it. Cazale still stays within the realm of everyone else, and has the right reactionary moments showing that Stan is not oblivious in any way even though he can be a bit of a jerk at times.

Cazale's exceptional moments though are of course the exceptions where Stan's insecurities come and he starts being a rather despicable sort of man who insults others as well as touts a gun around in an attempt to seem tough. Cazale is always such a heartbreaking loser, and although this is his least sympathetic performance, he achieves the same thing he did in all of his other performances. What Cazale does so well is show where the bad actions of his character comes from. Yes Stan is a coward who treats a gun like his personal toy, but Cazale always is able to show where that this behavior comes from a very human weakness. It does far from excuse Stan's behavior but Cazale brings such depth to the character's weakness.

Savage's exceptional scenes come once Steven, Nick and Michael go to Vietnam where they quickly are imprisoned and forced to play Russian roulette. Savage does not get to be in the greatest acted scene of 1978, but Savage is very effective in the proceeding scenes. Savage is incredibly moving by just being extremely blunt in the fears expressed by Steven as he faces the fateful game. Where Michael can face it directly and Nick can do his best Steven can barely keep his composure. Savage is outstanding by just getting to the bare basics of human emotions in his portrayal of the disabling terror in Steven reaction that represents what would probably be most people's reactions to being forced into a game of life and death.

Cazale also does get a bit of a Russian roulette scene himself after Michael comes home and they go hunting where Stan once again tries to act tough with gun again. It is a relatively quick moment but Cazale is great in just the quick very visceral quality he brings when Stan has to face the wrong end of the gun. There is not a great deal of Stan after this point, but Steven if found by Michael in a veterans hospital as Steven had to have  his legs amputated. Savage actually has only two fairly brief scenes in showing Steven's state after facing the war. Savage is very moving in both scenes though by portraying that Steven more then anything does not want to have to face his old friends as he is.

Both John Cazale and John Savage give very strong performances. Although neither of the them quite make the impact that Christopher Walken makes with his performance, they both add a great deal to the film with their performances. It would have been easy for everyone else to be forgotten in the face of the central friendship portrayed by Walken and De Niro, and the film probably still would have been pretty good, but this film does more then that. Cazale and Savage round out a fuller picture of the friends before the war and the tragedies they face afterwards with Cazale portraying the worst tendencies of a man who did not face the hardships and Savage portraying the honest emotional pains of a man who had to face the worst hardships.


RatedRStar said...

Ive never seen The Deer Hunter lol, Im curious though about Savages performance since I thought Savage was quite poor in Salvador and The Onion Field.

Michael McCarthy said...

Wow...I missed the predictions part of this one but I actually would've given Savage the top spot for this (behind Walken of course).

mrripley said...

I liked Savage what i would call a TRUE supporting role,telling us everything and making us feel very hard to do with so few scenes,we believe he exists,though the cast is faultless.

Mark said...

I think this pretty much screws everyone.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

C'mon Vernon. Prove me right for once!

Michael Patison said...

Depending on Vernon's review, I may have this one locked up.