The Deer Hunter (1978)

I don’t think I’ve blogged about The Deer Hunter before. I watched it again for the first time in a long while last night and as a UK script consultant The Deer Hunter offers a good opportunity to talk about what actors can do with ‘a look’ rather than tons of dialogue.

In a film full of stellar male acting talent, by far the most interesting performance is that of Meryl Streep who plays Linda. She’s the best actor in the film – by far…

Of course, The Deer Hunter is a very long film and has by necessity a long opening sequence which involves a wedding – during the wedding scenes we get to know the characters (this is done, so that by the time they end up in Vietnam we care more about them.) It’s a good device, but people watching the film sometimes get irate, that they’re left waiting a long while to get to the famous ‘action’.

To me, the opening hour of the film is far better than the comic book action that follows. I’d happily watch another 3 hours of the wedding and life in Pennsylvania rather than follow the characters in clichéd and unrealistic war sequences that follow. Anyway, I digress.

As a script writer for hire I like to watch the relationship develop between Streep’s Linda and DeNiro’s Michael. Linda is going out with Michael’s best friend, but Michael loves Linda, and she loves Michael. They never talk about it; it’s all done in lingering looks, shy smiles, and glances that are held too long. Indeed, Streep in some scenes deliberately doesn’t make eye contact with Michael. It’s all very telling.

Drunk and chatting at the wedding, there’s a very brief second where DeNiro’s Michael almost kisses Linda. It’s quick, instinctive, drunkness, and he pulls away quickly changing his mind – he can’t do it. It’s a very brief moment, over in a split second. And it’s better than anything else in the film.

This kind of writing, and giving actors ‘looks’ to convey what’s in their hearts and minds is often much better than dialogue. Some screenwriters fill pages and pages with characters talking about how they feel about each other. We know more about how Streep and DeNiro’s characters feel about each other in one charged look.

So, this film is a good example for script writers everywhere. Let your actors act, and acting is often done without dialogue. Have confidence that good performers can convey more with their eyes than with dialogue. It’s what’s unsaid in some scripts that are often the best things.

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on or hire him on Peopleperhour