Director Kieran Darcy-Smith’s The Duel stars Liam Hemsworth as a Texas Ranger sent to a town called, Helena to investigate the deaths of five Mexicans over the past couple of weeks. This is during and just after the border disputes with Mexico and the United States in the mid 1800’s so discretion was key, less a new war gets started. The town is run by a preacher named Abraham who runs the place more like a cult than a town. David Kingston (Hemsworth) and his wife, Marisol (Alice Braga) arrive to a suspicious town who seems to know a lot about them before they even arrive. Made the only Sheriff while he is secretly investigating the deaths of the Mexican found in the river, David seems to be the only one not interested in anything Abraham is selling. Marisol, however, is a different story.
The Duel has all of the elements of a western in the same vein as something Clint Eastwood would make. This is a slow, pot boiler than gathers steam but the climax is something out of the Hollywood Assembly Line of filmmaking and it undercuts the entire film’s message about vengeance. I will say I was impressed with Hemsworth’s performance as David. He is strong, honorable and noble. He is a very good person to his wife and to others, so I liked his character and was invested in him. Braga is fine, as well, as David’s wife who predictably falls in with Abraham and his diabolical charms. Harrelson who is an outstanding actor, seems preoccupied as Abraham. His performance is adequate but seems to reading lines from the script. He is not all that crazy as the preacher, promises nothing and yet the town seems to fall in with him, for some reason. I saw nothing special about Abraham. All of his henchman were a bunch of dummies who are repeatedly beaten down by David, which begs the question, why no one has stood up to these scumbags, until now.
Smith’s direction is decent, though as he lets the film build and Matt Cook’s script is thoughtful enough to delve into why people fall into cults, when others don’t. But there are some scenes where Cook’s script let’s the characters talk like they are in 21st century which took me out of the film. Jules O’Loughlin’s cinematography, however is beautiful and Craig Eastman’s score is aptly underscored. The Duel is not flashy or rousing entertainment. This can be a blessing and a curse. In this film it is both. As the film progresses, it is clear that Hemsworth is carrying this picture and for the most part, he does just that. There is a final shot in the Duel which is poignant but sad as two characters go their separate ways. All in all, The Duel is a mixed bag of goodies. It works sometimes and other times is sputters along. When there are some real classic westerns out there to watch, I would be hard pressed to recommend The Duel. However, this is not a bad film and has certain elements that do work. If you are a die hard western fan, then The Duel is for you.
The Duel – ** 3/4 out of 5
The Duel – Rated R for harsh language, violence and graphic gore
The Duel is now playing in select cities and On Demand. Check your local listings for times and locations.