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Parents' Guide to

The Duel

By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Muddled, violent Western echoes Apocalypse Now.

Movie R 2016 110 minutes
The Duel Poster Image

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So many wrong turns by The Duel's writer and director make the errors in judgment committed by the movie's characters seem forgivable in comparison. The script mindlessly coughs out modern phrases not used in the 1800s -- for example, someone "did a number" on someone else. But far worse logical mistakes make this movie a muddle. Why would David ever take his Mexican wife along on an undercover mission to root out a vicious madman known for heinous acts of barbarism against Mexicans? How does the madman know who the lawman is the moment the undercover Texas Ranger arrives? How does the madman predict that the wife will come down with a fever? How does the devilish mad "preacher" turn the loving wife into an acolyte in a matter of days? Magic? The power of god?

And the references to Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 Apocalypse Now -- from the hellish killings down to the fetishistic close-ups of Harrelson's sweaty, shaven head (reminiscent of Marlon Brando's) -- are less reverence than a sign of The Duel's artistic poverty. Most puzzling of all: How can a guy so badly wounded that he's closed his eyes to die be upright in a saddle only minutes later riding away to safety? Note that the designated "bad guy" wears white, customarily symbolic of purity and good, while the "good guy" wears black. Very message-y. The movie's greatest flaw is that, despite all the violence, it isn't nearly as disturbing or instructive as it seems to want to be.

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