Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Duel: Movie Review

Too many storylines spoil the intrigue and mystery.
The Duel’s description suggested that it was going for a mystery/thriller twist on a classic western. It feels about perfect time for such a send-up of genres. But the movie is actually a collection of about a dozen great ideas, only half thought out, all clashing with one another. There’s a good movie in there somewhere, but it’s hard to find. A Texas ranger is sent to a small community investigating mysterious deaths, and he got lost – or the movie did. 2016

Directed by: Kieran Darcy-Smith

Screenplay by: Matt Cook

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth

The history that opens the movie is the Mexican-American War of 1846, and the resolution declaring the Rio Grande as the border, but more bloody disputes followed with white settlers taking land previously belonging to Indians and Mexicans.

The town in question is called Helena, located on the banks of the Rio Grande. Multiple Mexican bodies have been found in the river, and on request by the Governor, David Kingston has been sent to investigate.
Abraham (Woody Harrelson, left), Marisol (Alice Braga, center)
and David Kingston (Liam Hemsworth, right) in THE DUEL.
Liam Hemsworth stars as David Kingston, now a trained Texas Ranger, but as a boy had to witness the murder of his father. Hemsworth is very quiet and subdued here. He can obviously turn on a dime, but he’s the only touch-point to morality which is desperately missing in this take-the-law-in-your-own-hands kind of town. He graciously accepts the audience’s trust but always maintains an air of mystery.

Now let’s get into everything that’s going on here. David is married to a Mexican woman named Marisol (Alice Braga), but it is not a marriage of love, rather one of murder and promises. And she’s going to go with him, whether she should or not. The town does not welcome them with open arms. And it is strangely controlled by one man – Abraham (Woody Harrelson), who’s also a preacher. He’s a creepy man who has murdered David’s father, has become a minister, has apparently performed miracles, has prophetic abilities, can lead people to spirituality by using a box full of snakes, and one can pretty much conclude has murdered people for probably no good reason. David just needs evidence.

It could be a simple tale of revenge, or a tale of murder and racial divide, but then there is also Marisol’s religious/spiritual connection to Abraham, her descent into madness, David’s kinship to a local prostitute (one of many in town), and the law-less nature of this community where people will just kill one another very violently and bloody. That’s an awful lot for a film to try to cohesively tie together, and this one does so very slowly, and doesn’t really succeed since nothing but the violent, bloody deaths are fully examined.

The cinematography is gorgeous. Perfect lighting though-out, every scene is framed such that the audience sees what we need to but always suggesting there’s something else to uncover. Beautiful desert locales are used for the destined showdowns. This cinematography along with the many interesting storylines give this film a very compelling air of intrigue and mystery, but that intrigue and mystery never really comes to fruition. The Duel is a relatively easy watch, but ultimately a frustrating one. They could have done so much more with much less.

Similar Titles:

Django Unchained (2012) - Django’s story of revenge, romance and redemption.

Get Low (2009) - A stylized drama - part comedy, part psychology.