Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Alice Braga, Felicity Price, William Sadler
Ambiguous in its morality…
Following on from his 2012 debut, Wish You Were Here, local director, Kieran Darcy-Smith, leaves modern day Australia behind for 19th century America in this contemplative revenge western. Ambiguous in its morality, The Duel, with its themes of religion and treatment of indigenous people, is likely to resonate in light of the recent election period in America.
Written by Matt Cook (Triple 9), the film sees Texas Ranger David Kingston (Liam Hemsworth) going undercover to investigate the deaths of several Mexicans, including the nephew of a prominent Mexican general. All signs point to a small town, under the control of softly spoken zealot, Abraham (Woody Harrelson), being the epicentre of the crimes. Things become a lot more personal when you take into account the fact that David watched Abraham kill his father many moons earlier.
After a frantic opening that shows the aforementioned murder of David’s father, The Duel slows down to a comfortable trot that sees David secrete himself into Abraham’s life by becoming his sheriff. Whilst David begins to uncover Abraham’s shady dealings, his Mexican wife, Marisol (Alice Braga), begins to fall for Abraham’s charms. Though it should be said that it’s in a spiritual capacity rather than a sexual one. This conflict – a sort of love triangle built on religion – has potential, but like the main push of David’s investigations, it has to shout in order to be heard above the other sub-plots jostling for attention. All of which engage, though none are given the breathing room that they deserve.
However, The Duel’s biggest strength – outside of Darcy-Smith’s beautiful landscapes – is Harrelson as the snake-handling Abraham. Always a hair’s breadth away from being decidedly unchristian, Harrelson is the perfect foil to Hemsworth as the ranger who begins to succumb to the violence that permeates his new home.