HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Duel
HTS Overall Score:71
I have to say that I’m a big fan of the western Genre. I grew up watching Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Charles Bronson and many more a classic western hero light up the silver screen with their six guns. I don’t care whether it was a family comedy or a knockdown, drag out brutal adult western, I ate them up like they were going out of style. Sadly by the time I was born the western really WAS going out of style, and even though they are still made in small quantities, the large scale appeal for them has dipped drastically over the last 35 years. “The Duel” takes a page from some of the more twisted Eastwood westerns and blends it with a mild element of arthouse revenge thrown in for good measure. It’s not a perfect western, and there certainly is some confusion during the second act, but it ends with a satisfactory bang and a sense of sick justice at the end of the old west rope.
The film opens up with a scene where Woody Harrelson is engaged in a duel to the death with another man. A duel that he very obviously wins in a matter of seconds, leaving a young boy fatherless. Instantly fast forwarding 22 years we see that the U.S. government has come to realize that a town named Mt. Hermon (My wife actually grew up near there as a child, and went to camp there) is being lorded over by a man named Abraham. A fierce man who is known for his legendary brutality towards minorities as well as a sort of wild man preacher. Word has gotten out that bodies of Mexican immigrants are showing up downstream from Mt. Hermon, so Governor Ross (William Sadler) of Texas sends down one of his rangers (David, played by Liam Hemsworth) to see if Abraham is at fault for the influx of dead bodies washing up on the banks of the river.
Aided by his wife, Marisol (Alice Braga), David treks down to Mt. Hermon to find out what Abraham is up to. Once there David and Marisol are met by the charismatic preacher and soon welcomed into the flock. Immediately made Sherriff by Abraham, David is given the perfect cover to scope out the town while his wife deals with a mysterious fever. Soon enough David comes to realize that something is off in the town. People are either afraid of, or insanely worshipful of Abraham, but it’s not until a young hooker gives David the final piece of the puzzle that the Texas Ranger is able to track down just what it is that Abraham and his men are up to. Meanwhile, Marisol, is drawn inexorably close to Abraham and his twisted philosophy, and through her own fevered nightmares may prove to be the undoing for all of David’s work
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77378[/img]“The Duel” is a slow paced western that starts out ever so lightly confusing, and is tortured by a sluggish and artistic 2nd act, only to pick up with an explosive finale that almost makes up for some of the stumbling that comes before it. I won’t say this is a SPOILER really, as it’s painfully obvious from the get go, but David is in fact that orphaned boy that Abraham killed over 20 years ago. The story almost tells you that with the heavy foreshadowing and the obvious stares that happen in the opening scene (not to mention the whole “22 years later” script that pops up). While that definitely plays into the familiarity between the two men, it interestingly enough doesn’t act as a motivator for David. His job is perfectly elementary, and he is doing his job out of a sense of duty and caring for the people around him, not for the people he lost.
As I mentioned, the first act is perfectly fine, but it’s the second act where things get a little hazy. Marisol gets sucked into the web of Abraham’s lies and deceit, but her change over form loving wife to betrayer feels very forced and odd. In fact you don’t really see WHY she does what she does besides for being fever induced. However, near the end you comes OUT of her fever and strangely seems just as devoted to the enigmatic preacher as DURING her fever induced nightmares. The switch over is decidedly sudden and apparently unwarranted, which makes her betrayal kind of bizarre. I guess it goes to setup how David becomes one of the victims of Abraham’s master plan, but that is more a McGuffin than anything else.
HOWEVER, with the flaws that happen during the second act, the last 35 minutes of the film really pick up and work for me. There is a duel between Abraham’s son and David during the end of the 2nd act, but the real duel happens to be the vicious struggle out in the desert when David makes a last stand for his very life between himself and the man who took his father from him decades ago. The finale between the two men is brutal and decidedly violent, and the actual fading ending where you see what happens AFTER the Mexican General gets his niece back is decidedly twisted, yet perfectly justified if you see what comes before it.
Rated R for Strong Violence and Language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77386[/img]Sadly I couldn’t find any actual specs for the cameras used, but from what I can tell it is an entirely digital production. The image is rather glossy and free of any grain or obvious digital noise, but there is a little bit of softness to the picture that keeps it from being razor sharp. There are moments of brilliant clarity where you can see every bit of stitching on the saddles, or the individual hairs on Liam Hemsworth’s face. Then it can switch to a scene that almost looks intentionally out of focus and slightly hazy. Blacks are deep and inky, with some very very mild crush in certain spots (look at the backgrounds when David is taking care of Marisol in the cabin), and the colors tend to be very sunkissed in nature, with earthy browns and light golden overtones throughout.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77394[/img]The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track impresses just as much as the video does, with a clean front soundstage and a rather vibrant use of the surrounds when necessary. Dialog is usually crisp and clean, but I felt that it was a bit stifled at times, with the voices feeling almost muffled and thick comparatively. It’s not something overt or majorly obvious, but something just feels OFF with the voices and after a while it starts to fade into the back of your mind. Surrounds get an ample workout with the gunshots going off during the 2nd half, as well as the simple chirping of birds of rustling of grass in the background of Mt. Hermon while David noses around. LFE is tight and clean, adding power to the weapons fire as well as emphasis on the thudding of horses hooves or the crashing of a giant boulder down the side of a cliff. It’s a nice track, and while it doesn’t excel in every aspect of the film, it does quite a pleasing job and does everything asked of it without question.
• Audio Commentary with Director Kieran Darcy-Smith and Production Designer Toby Corbett
“The Duel” is an interesting, if not slightly frustrating, western that dips into a variety of topics during its 1 hour and 50 minute run time. There are elements of a classic revenge film, as well as bits of existential looks at a person’s life and what leads them to certain points, but overall it’s a rather intriguing little film that keeps you watching the screen the entire time. I have to admit that I have a bit of struggling justifying the sluggishness and disjointed feeling of the first half of the film with the excitement and tension that comes in the 2nd half, but the move is definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of the Western genre. Audio and video are quite nice, but extras are just a tad weak to say the least. The commentary is impressive and works well as a side piece, but is fairly limited in comparison to what COULD be on the disc. Rental.
Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Alice Braga, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Kieran Darcy-Smith
Written by: Matt Cook
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 110 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 23rd 2016
Buy The Duel On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Recommended for a Rental
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