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Duel (1971)

DVD Cover (Universal)
Genres:
Chase Movie, Road Movie, Thriller
Director:
Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg
Starring:
Dennis Weaver Dennis Weaver
Jacqueline Scott Jacqueline Scott
Eddie Firestone Eddie Firestone
Lou Frizzell Lou Frizzell
Gene Dynarski Gene Dynarski

6.7 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: July 24, 2009
Not many casual movie goers can recall the made for TV film, Duel; but it just so happens to be Steven Spielberg's directorial debut. It's also the film he thanks for his storied career

David Mann is a mild mannered guy driving through the desert for a business appointment. He's quite content in his underpowered Plymouth Valiant considering he habitually drives at around sixty miles per hour anyway. Early in his trip, he catches up to a large, beat up tractor trailer that's moving extremely slowly. David passes the truck after complaining about the thick exhaust coming out of it, when suddenly the truck rushes back in front of him and slows down again. It continues to keep him in its sights, even stopping when David gasses up, and continually harasses him as he's trying to make his way through the desert mountains. It soon becomes apparent that he's unwillingly been caught up in a high speed game of cat and mouse, and the driver of this truck is out to kill him.

So, OK, it's not much of a plot, but it moves the movie along better than you might think. Now, I said before this was Spielberg's catapult, and there's a good reason for that. For starters, all the chase scenes are excellently done, due in no small part to the camera angles used. We've all seen movies try to speed up the action in a movie by playing it back faster than it was recorded, but the technique looks awful. It's blatantly obvious what happened and it's more effective at bringing Benny Hill to mind than hyping the scene. Instead, Spielberg made sure to keep his cameras low and close to the action. This simple technique gave both an extremely nice illusion of speed and immersion in the chase. Intermittent with the highway action was several stretches of David trying to figure out what to do. He's pretty much the only character, so with no one else for dialogue, we're listening in on his thoughts instead. It was a nice way to handle things, even if what he was thinking leaves you scratching your head. More on that later.

As our only main actor, Dennis Weaver kind of yo-yoed back and forth.. His nervous and frightened scenes were well done, especially the panicked sound of his voice in his inner monologues. However, there are a few times when he's trying to look overjoyed, such as when he was able to sneak his way in front of the truck via a side road before he realizes the driver's deadly intentions, which just look nothing short of ridiculous. Had he toned it down a few notches in these scenes, I wouldn't have a single complaint about his performance.

Naturally, it being his first time out, there are certainly a few gripes to be had. The biggest problem I found with it is that it ran a little long in my opinion. Now, most of the times when my attention began to wander were during scenes that could easily have been removed without consequence to the plot as a whole, so this could easily have been remedied. The school bus scene in particular is prime cutting room fodder. Had it been a shorter film, I think it would have been a lot more solid. There were also some serious plot hole problems in the script. For example, he can't drive more than sixty miles because of habit? I think if some lunatic was in a rig trying to kill you, that'd be one habit that's damn easy to break. It's about as logical as David actually talking himself out of calling the police, but we have that here as well. Then there's the biggest plot of them all. He had plenty of opportunities to just turn around and drive the opposite direction without the other driver knowing, but instead elects to try and outrun it. It makes absolutely zero sense, and collectively, this all hurt the movie quite a bit for me.

As it stands, I'm sure Steven Spielberg's fans will lap this one up, as it shows with little room for argument that the man knew what to do behind a camera since day one, even if it does have its fair share of gripes. 6/10.
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Chad #1: Chad - added 07/26/2009, 04:19 AM
Yeah, this film really needed a trip to the editing room. To be fair, the original cut was fifteen minutes shorter than the theatrical cut, and it was only padded out to get that coveted "feature length" status. Personally, I'd rather see the shorter cut.
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