The Duel, directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, is an empty film; void of anything that intrigues or compels you to invest in this film. With a premise that doesn’t lead to anywhere satisfying and characters that play by the book and never really standout – The Duel is a film that just moves along unnoticed, until it inevitably ends. There are certainly some things to breakdown about this film, so let’s get that going.
In ‘The Duel’, David Kingston – played by Liam Hemsworth – is tasked with investigating a town where people south of the Rio Grande have been disappearing, only to show up dead. It is in this town that David meets Abraham – played by Woody Harrelson – who is almost like a cult leader, one whose outward facing demeanour is welcoming and pleasant. Of course that is not the case, as a sinister secret slowly unfolds, and it is up to David to stop it. Oh, also, Abraham also happens to be the man who killed David’s father in a sanctioned knife fight to the death when he was but a wee lad.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this one, as the film kinds of blends into one big forgettable bore. I think I’ll start with the films characters: first up David Kingston (Liam Hemsworth). This is a man who by the end of the film I felt I knew as much as I did at the beginning of the film. I really found nothing to latch onto with David. He is a simple man who does his job, and scowls at people. There is nothing defining to him, he in no way stands out as someone who I want to invest in, or have be the protagonist in a story. He is someone who just floats in obscurity. This in turn plays into by total lack of investment in the film; when he was in danger I did not care, when he was riding to the rescue I did not care, when he was facing down Abraham… I just did not care. The character of David is also not helped by the fact that Liam Hemsworth lacks any real screen presence – the man couldn’t be intimidating if he tried. He certainly plays a part in seeing that the films main character fades into the background.
But what about Abraham, I mean it has the acting chops of Woody Harrelson to build the character up? Well… Harrelson is certainly one of the strongest parts of the film; he delivers a character who is layered and interesting (in a way that unsettles you). But, there just isn’t enough for Harrelson to work with in ‘The Duel’. While he certainly had me on edge, he never really had me chomping at the bit for more of him. Much like everything in this film, he exists and that’s about it.
There is a character in the film that completely infuriates, no matter then context of the scene. Isaac – played by Emory Cohen – is a character who is such a cliché it’s almost laughable. He’s the jealous son, who just wants his father’s approval, he also continually griefs the main character as tries to be the thorn in his side, hoping that daddy will notice and be proud of him. It is such an overdone character and it is so in your face that I couldn’t help but checkout mentally, anytime Isaac showed up. I like the work of Emory Cohen as an actor, just not this work I’m afraid.
There was one hint of hope in the film: its David Kingston’s wife, Marisol – played by Alice Braga. Her character begins to go down a path that offers up something unexpected. She falls for Abraham’s lies and she wants to become a part of his madhouse. But again, the film completely fails to capitalize on this interesting development. Instead the character is intentionally left to meander in the background, and is not given the proper exploration that is needed. It culminates in her disappearing into a plot point that leads to nothing. The film pivots what little focus it gave her over to the blandest shootout that I have seen in a western in some time. It’s a shame because the film had something of actual note, but it abandoned it for a story that lead to nothing.
Which I feel is the theme of this film: nothing. This is a western that is completely void of style, substance or… well anything really. The film just moves from one stagnant scene to the other – information is blandly offered up, we move onto another scene in which nothing engaging happens and we continue on. We go round and round, are offered nothing and then we are left to unceremoniously fall off the roundabout, where we are left numb and without anything to feel satisfied by. I also feel it to be comical that a film titled ‘The Duel’ has two short, badly shot duels that are totally uninteresting to watch.
All of this culminated in me feeling empty after this film; I hadn’t gained anything that inspired excitement or intrigue in me. I sat for 1 hour and 50 minutes, and by the end of it, everything was the same.
So it’s probably pretty obvious that I won’t be recommending ‘The Duel’. What’s left to say, except don’t waste your time.
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