Starring Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Alice Braga, Emory Cohen
The second semi-mainstream western of 2016 offers a bit more excitement than Natalie Portman’s Jane Got a Gun. The Duel, comes to us from Kieran Darcy-Smith who is predominately a television director. The western reunites Hunger Game co-stars Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth, in a classic battle of good and evil. From the violent opening moments, Smith sets this film up as a dark, moody and foreboding story. The Duel is the best character and portrayal from the younger Hemsworth yet in his career. It’s the first time the 26-year-old assumes leading man status. Harrelson on the other hand, steps back comfortably into villainous territory, complete with his signature veins pulsing on that bald head.
The bloody war between Texas and Mexico during the mid-1800’s left a fractured alliance between two bordering countries. Abraham (Harrelson) known as The Preacher, a man feared for his cruelty and mysterious ways, has taken control of Mt. Herman Texas. The Texas Rangers have been made aware of scalped bodies floating in the Rio Grande and assign one of their young investigators David Kingston (Hemsworth) to investigate Abraham’s territory. Kingston and his wife Marisol (Braga) reach Mt. Herman under different names. Abraham surprisingly takes a liking to both, insisting David be the town’s sheriff and Marisol attend his revivals. It doesn’t take the curious David long to uncover the sick hunting business Abraham is running out of his town.
The violence of the film takes president over sweeping cinematography, performance or even gun battles.
“Let me do my job, we will be able to leave as easy as we came in here,” David says to his wife who feels uncomfortable around Abraham. We already know from the brutal opening scene, the editing and score, that the plot if barreling towards a vicious showdown. Abraham’s son Isaac, played by Brooklyn’s sweet turned not so sweet Emory Cohen, helps step up the intensity by taunting the town’s newly appointed sheriff. The cleverness of putting David in the sheriff position is one of the scripts smartest moves. The new guy in town, his youth, the way the townspeople glare at him, it’s unnerving. Harrelson plays this role like he has others, with charisma on the surface, hinting to the underlying snake like behavior.
The Duel’s tragic flaw is how it shows its hand. The opening scene of the movie sets up everything that is to come later. The audience anticipates the foreseeable conclusion, because after all, this is a western, where good guys win and ride away in the sunset. Still for those seeking a return to dusty roads, horses and saddle justice, The Duel is certainly entertaining and satisfying. The violence of the film takes president over sweeping cinematography, performance or even gun battles. It’s obviously a small western, confined to one town and lots of close-ups. It’s more of a vehicle for Hemsworth to assume leading man status than it is to rattle the ranks of the genre.
A small, but effective violent western that offers the younger Hemsworth a chance at leading man status.