Michael Cimino

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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
7.6 The Deer Hunter (1978)
7.1 Heaven's Gate (1981)
6.8 Year Of The Dragon (1985)
5.0 Desperate Hours (1990)

Michael Cimino debuted with the Clint Eastwood vehicle Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974).

The Deer Hunter (1978) is, on the surface, a Vietnam movie, but the character study goes way beyond anything that had done before, devoting basically the first half to establishing the cultural roots of the protagonists.

Five friends, sons of Russian emigrants, grow up together in an industrial town of the American heartland: Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), John, Stan, Axel. Nick loves Linda (Meryl Streep), who is beaten by her father, a brutish drunkard. A lengthy wedding scene describes the traditional life of the Russian emigrants, and a lengthy hunting scene in the mountains describes the solidarity among the friends.
Suddenly, the movie shifts to Vietnam, where Michael and Nick are involved in the brutal repression of Vietcong fighters. They are captured and tortured. The Vietcong force them to play Russian roulette, one against the other. Nick is traumatized, but Michael never loses control and eventually finds a way to kill all the Vietcongs and free the Americans. They drift down the river protected by a log, until they are rescued by American forces. Nick ends up in a hospital, trying to recover. Michael returns home, whereas Nick is lost in the narrow back alleys of Saigon. Michael tries to go back to a normal life, but is visited by the ghosts of Vietnam. Eventually, Michael decides to return to Vietnam and look for Nick.
Vietnam is sheer hell. Michael uses money and connections to find Nick, who has become addicted to the Russian roulette and is used by unscrupolous businessmen in an underground racket of illegal betting. Nick has lost his mind and does not recognize him: Michael begs Nick to follow him, but Nick spits in his face. Michael then spends all his money to obtain the right to fight Nick at the Russian roulette. As Michael sits in front of him, Nick stares coldly into his eyes and lets him pull the trigger. Michael begs him again to quit: Nick remembers, smiles, points the gun to his head and pulls the trigger. The bullet crashes his skull.
The USA pulls out of Vietnam.

Year Of The Dragon (1985)

Stanley is a police detective, a Vietnam veteran who hates Orientals, sent incognito to patrol Chinatown after a dramatic increase in juveline delinquents. But Stanley realizes that the problem is in the older generation, that constitutes a thousand-year old mafia. One of the top bosses has just been killed. Stanley visits the offices of one of the triads, where he has a confrontation with the young and ambitious Joey (Stanley is rough and uncultured, Joey is handsome, elegant and educated). The Chinese complain with Stanley's chief, who tries in vain to tell Stanley that there is an old non-aggression pact between the Chinese gangs and the police. Stanley is determined to get tough on them the same way America got touch on Vietnam.
Stanley is an unpleasant character brutal, vulgar, racist, aggravating. He has poisoned his wife's life.
Stanley tries to make a deal with Tracey, a Chinese girl who is a tv reporter and knows a lot, but she is offended by his attitude. While they are still arguing at the table, masked gunmen enter the restaurant and start shooting at random.
Joey tells the elderly that the slaughter must be avenged. But then he visits the very gunmen who carried it out, who obviously did it on his behalf: his goal is to destroy the old bosses and take over.
Stanley puts together a squad and begins his campaign against organized crime. Not all the Chinese are against him: Herbert joins Stanley's squad, and Tony is a honest, hard-working Chinese who is not afraid of the gangsters and tells the police about two dead bodies.
Joey tries to buy out Stanley, but he openly challenges him. It began as a crusade, but now it has become a duel. In order to have his confrontation with Joey, Stanley missed an appointment with his wife, yet another nail in the coffin of their marriage.
Stanley gets tender with Tracey, but she tells him she has a boyfriend and actually just made love with him. Stanley basically rapes her. He is ambivalent towards her (a member of the hated Chinese race, but one who "converted" to the caucasian lifestyle) and she is ambivalent towards him (she resents his methods, but lets him take her).
Now they work together. Stanley's squad raids illegal businesses, and Tracey broadcasts the raids. Despite their initial clashes, the two have become partners and soon become lovers. Ignoring orders from headquarters to give up, Stanley continues his guerrilla tactic.
Stanley decides to leave his wife. In the middle of their scene, gangsters break into the house and slash her throat. He kills them, but can't save his wife, whom he abused all along, betrayed and now even caused to die.
Joey travels to Thailand to meet with a brutal druglord, who runs his own army. Stanley has installed microphones at Joey's headquarters (two nuns do the translation from Chinese to English) and knows all of his moves, that Tracey faithfully reports on tv.
The elders of the mafia are as angry at Joey for his methods as the elders of the police are at Stanley's methods. Stanley and Joey are fighting a war that is a war between new generations, who ignore the moral code of the old generation. They are ruthless and cynical.
Herbert has been hired as a cook at Joey's restaurant and has learned the name of the ship that will carry the drug shipment from Thailand, but Joey figures out that he is a spy and orders him killed. The killing happens basically under Stanley's eyes: he runs to Herbert, who is dying, but is only concerned about the name of the ship. Herbert, faithfully, utters the name and then dies in his arms. One more time Herbert has sacrificed a friend to his crusade, and seems completely indifferent to the human loss.
Stanley can't control himself. He breaks into Joey's disco, drags Joey to the restrooms and beats him. A female gangster kill another member of his squad who is coming to his rescue. Stanley chases the woman through the narrow alleys until he kills her.
In the meantime, Tracey, who has become an annoyance for Joey, is raped by three gangsters in her apartment.
Joey is being reproached by the elders for jeopardizing the entire organization with his aggressive attitude. Joey promises to take care personally of the new shipment. He puts his honor, besides his life, on the line.
When Tracey meets Stanley, Stanley is only interested in her covering the story of his capture of the ship at the pier. She is disgusted by his indifference towards the rest of the world, how he ignores the consequences of his actions on the people who care for him. He just doesn't care.
The police dumps him too: they hate him for causing the deaths of good police officers, and for not listening to their warnings. Stanley is left alone, truly alone, but doesn't give up.
Stanley continues his personal war by himself. He ambushes Joey at the pier Joey manages to run away on the railway tracks, but Stanley, wounded, does not give up. They face each other on a bridge and start shooting at each other. Stanley wins. Joey is down, captured. Police cars are coming. Joey begs Stanley for a chance to commit suicide, the way his ancestors used to. Stanley hands him the gun. Joey could kill him now, but really shoots himself.
At Joey's funeral, through the narrow alleys of Chinatown, Stanley fends the crowd, like a force of nature, determined to continue his personal war against the mafia (who are all lined up behind the coffin). The crowd almost lynches him, but the police save him, and Tracey takes care of him.
The ending is a stereotypical, pathetic, Hollywoodian expedient, but the rest of the film is a powerful portrait of a man who is driven by a terrifying dose of hatred. The hatred is initially racist (they remind him of the Vietcong) and then personal (they killed his wife), but eventually mutates into a universal mission of justice.

Desperate Hours (1990) is a terrible remake of William Wyler's film, horribly acted and pathetically scripted.

An attractive attorney, Nancy, helps murderer Michael escape from court (by smuggling in a gun). He and his two thugs need a place to hide and pick a house at random in a wealthy neighborhood, the house of Tim and Nora, who are going through a divorce, and of their two children. The three gangsters break in and take the entire family hostage. In the meantime, a female police detective, Chandler, has decided to let the attorney free so that she will, involuntarily, lead them to the gangster. The police follows the blonde attorney and finds out where the gangster he is hiding. Before the blonde can reach him, the detective stops her and forces her to cooperate. The police has already surrounded the entire neighborhood without the gangster or the family noticing anything. In what must be the dumbest police operations ever, the police fails to surprise the gangster. Thankfully the man of the house, a Vietnam veteran, manages to solve the problem, and everything ends well.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Gabriele Calderone)

Michael Cimino debutta come regista in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) (titolo italiano del film: "Un calibro 20 per lo specialista"), interpretato, fra gli altri, da Clint Eastwood.

The Deer Hunter (1978) (in Italia: "Il cacciatore") è, a prima vista, un film sul Vietnam, ma la rappresentazione dei personaggi va oltre tutto ciò che è stato realizzato finora su questo tema, con la prima parte dedicata praticamente per intero alla descrizione delle radici culturali dei protagonisti.

Cinque amici, figli di emigrati russi, crescono insieme in una cittadina industriale nel cuore dell’America: Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), John, Stan e Axel. Nick ama Linda (Meryl Streep), che viene spesso picchiata dal padre, uomo rozzo e alcolista. Una scena di matrimonio eccessivamente lunga ha lo scopo di descrivere le abitudini di vita degli emigrati russi, e una scena di caccia altrettanto prolissa, che si svolge tra le montagne, dimostra l’unione solidale dei cinque amici. Poi di colpo la scena si sposta in Vietnam, dove Michael e Nick vengono coinvolti nella brutale repressione ad opera dei guerriglieri Vietcong. I due vengono catturati, torturati e addirittura costretti a giocare alla Roulette russa, uno contro l’altro. Nick subisce un forte trauma, ma Michael riesce a non perdere mai il controllo e alla fine trova un modo per uccidere tutti i Vietcong e liberare gli americani, finché, discendendo un fiume aiutati da un ceppo, i due vengono salvati dalle forze americane. Nick finisce in un ospedale. Successivamente Michael ritorna a casa, mentre Nick si perde negli stretti vicoli di Saigon. Michael prova a tornare ad una vita normale, ma è tormentato dai fantasmi del Vietnam, tanto che alla fine ritorna sul posto per cercare Nick. Il Vietnam è un puro inferno. Michael usa molti soldi e le sue conoscenze per trovare Nick, che intanto ha preso dimestichezza con la Roulette russa ed è utilizzato da uomini d’affari senza scrupoli in un racket segreto di scommesse illegali: ha perso la testa a tal punto che nemmeno lo riconosce. Michael gli chiede di a seguirlo, ma Nick gli sputa in faccia. Micheal allora spende tutti i suoi soldi per ottenere il diritto di sfidarlo alla Roulette russa, si siede di fronte a lui, con Nick che lo guarda freddamente negli occhi e che gli lascia premere il grilletto. Micheal gli offre nuovamente di lasciar stare tutto, di andare via insieme. Poi Nick finalmente ricorda, sorride, si punta la pistola alla testa e preme il grilletto: la pallottola gli fracassa il cranio. Successivamente gli USA si ritireranno dal Vietnam. Year Of The Dragon (1985) (il titolo italiano è "L’anno del dragone"). Stanley è un detective della polizia, un veterano del Vietnam che odia gli orientali, e viene mandato in incognito per perlustrare Chinatown dopo un drammatico incremento della delinquenza giovanile. Ma Stanley ben presto si accorge che il problema è nella generazione più anziana, che rappresenta una millenaria tradizione di mafia. Uno dei boss principali è appena stato ucciso. Stanley visita l’ufficio di uno di loro, e ha una discussione con il giovane e ambizioso Joey (Stanley è rude e poco acculturato, Joey è di bell’aspetto, elegante e colto). Il cinese successivamente si lamenta con il capo di Stanley, che prova in vano a fargli capire che esiste un patto di non aggressione tra le bande cinesi e la polizia. Stanley è lo stesso determinato ad usare il pugno duro con tali organizzazioni, nella stesso modo in cui l’America ha fatto con il Vietnam. Il detective non è un personaggio gradevole, è brutale, volgare, razzista, insopportabile e ha avvelenato la vita di sua moglie. Stanley prova a fare un accordo con Tracey, una ragazza cinese inviata della tv che conosce un mucchio di cose, ma che rimane offesa dai suoi modi. Mentre stanno ancora discutendo al tavolo, uomini mascherati entrano nel ristorante e cominciano a sparare a casaccio. Joey promette al vecchio boss che la carneficina sarà vendicata, ma intanto ha rapporti con i gangster che l’hanno realizzata, che naturalmente l’hanno fatta a suo vantaggio: lo scopo di Joey, infatti, è di uccidere tutti i vecchi boss e impadronirsi del potere. Stanley organizza una squadra e inizia la campagna contro il crimine organizzato. Non tutti i cinesi sono contro di lui: Herbert entra nella squadra di Stanley, e Tony, un cinese onesto che lavora duro, non ha paura della mafia e racconta alla polizia di due cadaveri di cui è venuto a conoscenza. Joey prova a corrompere Stanley, ma viene sfidato apertamente: quella che era iniziata come una crociata, ora si è trasformata in un vero e proprio duello. Per tenere d’occhio Joey, Stanley non si presenta nemmeno ad un appuntamento con la moglie, piantando così un altro chiodo nella bara del loro matrimonio. Stanley si fa più carino con Tracey, ma lei gli rivela che ha un altro ragazzo, e che lo ama, così Stanley praticamente la violenta. Il detective è ambivalente riguardo alla ragazza (allo stesso tempo un membro della tanto odiata razza cinese, ma anche una ragazza che si è "convertita" allo stile di vita dei bianchi) e lei stessa è ambivalente nei confronti del detective (deplora i suoi modi, ma si lascia prendere da lui). I due finiscono per lavorare assieme: la squadra di Stanley mette in atto incursioni contro il mondo degli affari illegali e Tracey manda in onda le immagini alla tv. Nonostante le loro iniziali divergenze, i due collaborano, e presto diventano anche amanti. Ignorando gli ordini dalle sfere superiori che intimano di chiudere le indagini, Stanley continua la sua tattica di guerriglia, e decide anche di lasciare la moglie. Nel mezzo della scena, alcuni gangster irrompono nella casa e le tagliano la gola; lui riesce ad ucciderli, ma non a salvare la moglie, che ha sempre trattato male, tradito, e di cui ora è anche causa della morte. Joey si reca intanto in Tailandia, dove incontra un brutale signore della droga, che comanda un esercito tutto suo. Stanley, che ha nascosto microfoni nel quartier generale di Joey (due suore fanno da traduttrici dal cinese all’inglese) conosce tutte le sue mosse, che Tracey fedelmente riporta nei suoi servizi in tv. I vecchi della mafia sono adirati con Joey per i suoi metodi, come i capi di Stanley lo sono per i suoi. Stanley e Joey combattono una guerra che è una guerra tra nuove generazioni, che ignorano i codici morali di quelle precedenti, sono uomini spietati e cinici. Successivamente Herbert viene assunto come cuoco nel ristorante di Joey e viene a conoscenza del nome della nave che porterà il carico di droga dalla Tailandia, ma Joey si accorge che l’uomo è una spia e ordina che venga ucciso. L’omicidio si svolge praticamente sotto gli occhi di Stanley, che corre verso il morente Herbert, ma è in realtà solo interessato al nome della barca, che Herbert fedelmente gli rivela per poi spirare tra le braccia del detective. Un’altra volta ancora, Stanley sacrifica un amico alla causa della sua crociata e sembra totalmente indifferente alla perdita di vite umane… non riesce nemmeno ad autocontrollarsi: fa irruzione nella discoteca di Joey, lo trascina in una stanza e lo picchia. Una donna gangster intanto uccide un altro membro della squadra di Stanley, che sta arrivando in suo aiuto. Stanley la insegue, attraverso stretti viottoli, fino ad ucciderla. Nello stesso tempo, Tracey, che è diventata una seccatura per Joey, viene violentata da tre gangster che irrompono nell’appartamento. Joey viene rimproverato dai vecchi per aver messo a repentaglio l’intera organizzazione con i suoi metodi troppo bruitali. Joey promette allora di prendersi personalmente cura dell’affare della nave che trasporta il carico di droga dalla Tailandia, mettendo così in gioco l’onore accanto alla vita. Quando Tracey incontra Stanley, l’uomo si dimostra solo interessato alla cronaca della ragazza sulla sua cattura della nave al molo. Lei è disgustata da tanta indifferenza nei confronti del resto del mondo, e da come lui ignori le conseguenze dei suoi atti sulle persone che gli vogliono bene, ma a lui non importa niente. Anche la polizia lo scarica: lo odiano per aver causato la morte di bravi agenti della polizia e per non aver dato ascolto ai ripetuti avvertimenti. Stanley viene lasciato solo, del tutto, ma lo stesso non si arrende e continua la personale battaglia in solitaria. Tende un agguato a Joey, al molo. Il gangster cerca di trovare una via di fuga seguendo le rotaie del treno, ma Stanley, anche se ferito, non si dà per vinto, finché i due si trovano faccia a faccia sopra un ponte e cominciano a spararsi uno contro l’altro. Stanley ha la meglio: Joey cade a terra e sta per essere arrestato, ma chiede al detective di potersi suicidare, come da antica tradizione dei gangster in quei casi. Stanley gli dà la pistola, e per un momento, disarmato, potrebbe essere ucciso da Joey, che però si punta veramente la pistola addosso e spara. Al funerale di Joey, attraverso gli stretti vicoli di Chinatown, Stanley tiene a bada la folla come una vera forza della natura, determinato a continuare la sua personale battaglia contro la mafia (che è tutta schierata in prima fila, al seguito della bara). La folla quasi lo lincia ma la polizia arriva in suo aiuto e alla fine anche Tracey torna con lui. La fine è un tipico e patetico stereotipo Hollywoodiano, ma il resto del film è un poderoso ritratto di un uomo guidato da una dose terrificante di odio. L’odio è inizialmente razzismo (i cinesi gli ricordano i Vietcong) poi diviene personale (i cinesi hanno ucciso sua moglie) e infine una missione universale di giustizia.

Desperate Hours (1990) (il titolo in Italia è "Ore disperate") è un terribile remake del film di William Wyler orribilmente recitato e scritto in modo patetico. Un’attraente donna di legge, Nancy, aiuta Michael, un omicida, a sfuggire alla legge (procurandogli una pistola di contrabbando). Lui e i suoi due complici hanno bisogno di un posto dove nascondersi e scelgono un’abitazione a caso in un ricco quartiere, la casa di Tim e Nora, che sono sulla via del divorzio, e dei loro due bambini. I tre gangster irrompono nella casa e prendono in ostaggio l’intera famiglia. Nello stesso tempo, una donna agente di polizia, l’agente Chandler, decide di lasciare libera Nancy, che in tal modo, involontariamente, potrebbe condurli dai gangster. La polizia segue la bionda Nancy e scopre dove l’omicida Michael si sta nascondendo. Prima che la donna possa raggiungerlo, la polizia l’arresta e la costringe a collaborare. Gli agenti circondano l’intero isolato senza che i gangster o la famiglia si accorgano di nulla. In quella che si preannuncia come la più impegnativa operazione di polizia di sempre, i poliziotti si giocano male la possibilità di sorprendere i gangster, ma alla fine, grazie all’uomo di casa, un veterano del Vietnam che riesce a risolvere la situazione, tutto finisce bene.

Heaven's Gate (1981) is an ambitious western that links urban East and rural West, but its plot is haphazard and the action is terribly slow. The photography is annoyingly fancy and the protagonist's dialogues, without subtitles, are often difficult to understand. This feels like a film made by someone who does not know how to make a film but has a lot of money to make one. The climax of the film is one of the most amateurish and confusing battle scenes of any western film. The commercial failure of this film almost killed the entire western genre.

In 1870 at Harvard College a new class is graduating. One of the young men, Billy, is asked to give a speech and he indulges in an irreverent rant to a standing ovation. Twenty years later in Wyoming a mysterious elegantly-dressed gunslinger shoots and kills in cold blood a European immigrant who doesn't speak English. Then the killer rides away on a horse through the majestic prairie. He finds a long caravan of immigrants who are advancing on foot. He shouts "go back" and rides away. In a smoky and overcrowded train station the station master prepares to welcome a train. The train is overcrowded too. There is one distinguished passenger, who gets off the train at that station: Jim (Kris Kristofferson), who was one of the students graduating with Billy, and who has decided to start a new life in the Far West as the sheriff. The station master, Cully, is an old acquaintance and informs him of the trouble that has started between the old landowners and the new poor European immigrants: the landowners want to keep the immigrants away and are hiring militias to achieve their goal. The city is the emblem of chaos. Every saloon and every street is overcrowded and noisy. Jim witnesses first hand some gangsters beating up a family of poor immigrants. In the meantime in a palatial mansion the rich landowners are meeting to plot a veritable coup: they will take justice in their hands, having formed a militia of 50 gunslingers who will be rewarded for every "thief" that is shot or hanged, and they have compiled a "death list" of 125 people. The president of he association, Frank, is confident that the political elite of the state is on their side. One of the landowners at the meeting is Billy, who, completely drunk, seems to object, but then votes "yes" and simply walks out of the meeting. He meets his old friend Jim and tells him about the criminal plans of the association. On his way out Jim tells the president, Frank, to cancel his plans or leave the county: Frank slaps him with his gloves (as a noble challenging another noble to a duel), and Jim responds by knocking him out (signaling he has no patience for the aristocratic manners). Later on the road Jim meets the widow and the orphans of the immigrant who was shot by the mysterious gunslinger. They are pushing a cart with the dead body and all their belongings. Jim promises justice. At the saloon of his friend John (Jeff Bridges), Jim watches a cockfight that excites an unruly mob of immigrants. Later Jim visits Ella (Isabelle Huppert), the French prostitute who runs the local brothel, and who is happy like a child to see him again. He gives her a brand new horse carriage. They ride around town, picnic at the lake and dance in the town's dancehall. Jim asks her to go away with him. In the evening, while a drunk Jim is fast asleep, the landowner's enforcer (the mysterious assassin) visits Ella: he is in love with her and jealous of Jim. Ella and Nathan deliver Jim, still asleep, to his friend John and then make love. Ella is teaching Nathan how to read and write. The following day Jim meets with another old friend, the captain of the local regiment, who tells him that the army will not stop the landowners. The captain has a copy of the dead list and gives it to Jim. Jim reads that Ella's name is on the list. He rides back to Ella's and tells her that her name is on the list, and Nathan, who is there, didn't even warn her. Nathan asks Ella to marry him.
Cully watches as the posse of the landowners gets off the train. He rides away to warn about the danger, but is caught by the posse and murdered. In the meantime Ella finds three men of the posse in her house. They rape her. Jim arrives in time to kill two of them and recognize the third one. The third one runs away. Nathan also arrives. Now he realizes the danger that Ella is in. He rides to the headquarters of the posse, sees one of the immigrants tied to a wheel, walks into the tent of the president of the association, finds him talking to the third rapist, coldly shoots and kills the rapist, then warns the president that he will release any prisoner who is held illegally. The president reminds him of his political connections and claims to be the law. Nathan walks outside to free the prisoner but the president walks faster, pulls out his gun and shoots the prisoner in front of him.
Jim argues with Ella, who is still torn between him and Nathan and does not want to leave. Jim understands she has chosen Nathan and gets drunk. When the mayor realizes that Jim has become useless to save them from the posse, he fires him.
Determined to teach discipline, the president leads the posse to Nathan's cabin. Ella is inside with Nathan. They surround the cabin. Ella manages to ride away. Nathan and his friends are massacred.
Ella and Jim's friend John help the immigrants get organized and armed. They decide to act before they all get killed, while Jim calmly gets dressed and watches from a window. The poor immigrants charge against the camp of the posse, but are massacred by the disciplined troops of the president. Among the few casualties of the aristocrats is Billy, drunk as usual.
Jim finishes getting dressed and rides off. He meets Ella who has left the battle and found Nathan's body. Then Jim joins John in leading the final charge against the president's men. It's another massacre, with dozens killed on both sides. However, the president has left his men to go and call for help. He comes back with the cavalry and an order signed by the governor to stop the fighting. John, Ella and Jim clean up and get ready to leave that land for good. But the president's men are waiting for them: they kill John and Ella, while Jim kills the evil president.
In 1903 an elegantly dressed Jim is cruising on his ship with his beautiful aristocratic wife. It feels as if the whole film has been only the flashback of this elderly Jim as he was reminiscing his past.
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