We’ve kind of been spoiled for choice with westerns in the past few years. Although for a lot of them you have to go out of you way to find them. Maybe that’s the way it’s always been with westerns, from the spaghetti cult classics all the way up to horror/saddle stew ‘Bone Tomahawk’. Coming this week on the ‘quite good looking for its budget’ radar is The Duel. It is a slow, sleepy and ultimately forgettable movie starring Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth.
Maybe you should call it ‘Heart of Darkness in the old west’, if Apocalypse Now was a Vietnam riff on Conrad’s work. I don’t know if it was intentionally referenced or not during promotion, probably because there was almost none. Woody Harrelson plays the nut. Liam Hemsworth plays the hunter. As a Texas Ranger in the mid 19th century, Hemsworth is sent out to investigate the murder of Mexican people along a river near the Mexican border. It so happens that Harrelson is the head of a settlement nearby, leading a town of passive aggressive yokels who don’t like outsiders. And as it turns out, Harrelson killed Hemsworth’s father 22 years prior.
There are holes in this slow, go-nowhere story that grated on me. Take for instance Hemsworth’s decisions as a Ranger. He’s sent to take control of Harrelson’s town as a Sheriff, at the request of Harrelson too by the way. He’s there to investigate a series of racist murders. He knows this ahead of time. So what do you tell your Mexican wife when you’re headed out to a town full of varmants who like butchering Mexicans down by the river? Well hey, wanna come with?! What’s the worst that could happen?
To find that out, you’ll have to sit through a sludge of character interaction and study, little of which is engaging. Hemsworth seems out of his depth, unsure of who his character is – but something we shouldn’t blame him for. Harrelson on the other hand is his usual dynamo powerhouse actor, here he is again, being the only interesting presence on screen. With Harrelson, it’s always like one character he plays is distinct from the next and it’s the same here. The film also looks pretty too despite it’s modest budget, so I suppose that’s another achievement.
But I’m afraid with it’s poor pacing and noticeable tropes it’s a case of ‘move along, nothing to see here’.