Movie Review: The Duel (2016)

“Vengeance cannot be denied.”

1 Stars
The Duel (2016)

The Duel (2016)


Director: Kieran Darcy-Smith

Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Alice Braga, Woody Harrelson

Synopsis: A Texas Ranger investigates the disappearance of Mexicans in a town that is run by the man who killed his father.

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Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games, Out of the Furnace), coming across visually as a cross between Marlon Brando’s deranged Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now and Michael Berryman in every movie in which he ever appeared, steals a rather flat show in Kieran Darcy-Smith’s moody, slow-burning Western, The Duel.   He plays Abraham, an unconventional, domineering preacher who holds sway over the small Texan border town of Helena, in which he delivers blood-and-thunder sermons before insisting that a selection of poisonous snakes are passed amongst his congregation.  The film’s opening scene, in which we see a younger Abraham emerge victorious from a ritualised knife fight to the death in which the combatants are tied at the wrist, shows us that he is a man of violence as well as a man of God.

The man he vanquished in that fight was the father of David Kingston (Liam Hemsworth – The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) who, now fully grown, is the Texas Ranger instructed to investigate the disappearance of a number of Mexicans around the town Abraham controls.   Kingston’s insistence to his native wife, Marisol (Alice Braga – Elysium), who accompanies him on the journey to Helena, that he has no intention of seeking revenge over his father’s death is greeted with doubt both by her and the audience, and lends a degree of ambiguity to his acceptance of Abraham’s offer of the position of town sheriff shortly after his arrival in the town.   However, while Kingston is searching for clues as to the fate of the missing Mexicans, Abraham is insidiously indoctrinating Marisol into his congregation.

Dressed mostly all in white, with his shaven pate and broad slash of a mouth, Abraham is a frighteningly plausible tyrant in the guise of an angel, and is the only compelling character in a movie that is diminished by a fatally bland lead character in David Kingston.   An actor more accomplished and charismatic than Liam Hemsworth might have provided Kingston with a streak of individuality without distracting us from Abraham’s force of presence, but Kingston’s lacklustre nature results in a resolutely one-sided clash of wills which goes a long way towards undermining The Duel’s final act.   The fact that the Western has fallen out of favour with mass audiences, combined with the deathlike pace of the opening half-hour, probably means that the it will be seen by few – and that even fewer will see it through to the finish, which is a shame as The Duel does eventually gather some momentum.

(Reviewed 23rd July 2016)

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