Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Duel (1971): One of Steven Spielberg's Less Popular Jewels

Most probably, you've already seen plenty of Steven Spielberg's movies but it's quite possible you haven't seen one of his first films made for the TV yet. Duel is a remarkable movie in many aspects. Duel does not have an extensive cast. It does not sport any huge film stars. One of the two Duel's characters that matter is practically invisible throughout the movie. There is not a lot of talking and almost everything in Duel's an hour and a half long time span happens on the road or along it. Yet, this is a film that captures your attention from the beginning and keeps it absorbed until its end.

Duel's plot is quite simple. David Mann (Dennis Weaver), a man from California, drives through the desert for a business appointment outside of his town. After David passes a massive truck, its driver begins to chase him and does not give up independently of David's attempts to lose him. It appears the truck driver has no other occupation than pursuing David hidden in his big truck.

As unpretentious the plot might seem, it's enough to entertain you for the entire continuance of the movie. Duel starts with random transmissions from various radio stations that are interesting on their own. It continues with some common road activities and subtly proceeds to the thrilling part. From then on, the suspense is constantly there and if you've been wondering what substance could stuff a movie based entirely on a road chase, you are going to stop at this point. It's easy to guess where the movie is heading for and even that the chase could have a tragic conclusion for one of the participants but you will not know who and how until the very end of the film. In fact, you won't be completely sure about the reasons for the pursuit even after Duel ends.

Dennis Weaver has a heavy task in this movie because he must carry out the whole narrative on his shoulders. He copes with the assignment quite well. His character tries to simulate self-confidence but he is a man who has doubts about everything. He is easily frightened and tries to avoid any possible problems, yet this results in overreactions and often inadequate behaviour. David is the perfect guy to be chased by a psycho.

The problem I have with this character though is why he doesn't just turn his car back when he has many occasions to do it and especially when he realizes that he has missed the meeting. This is pretty much the main flaw of the movie since it doesn't fit in the character's profile. David Mann is hardly a man who would like to prove anything to a malevolent stranger. It would have been much better if the moviemakers had decided to present the whole chase as happening after the meeting and David travelling towards home since his wife waiting for him would be a substantial reason to continue in that direction regardless of the truck following him. Of course, it's not very likely to expect from a movie with a plot limited in the aforementioned boundaries to be flawless so this fault is excusable although diminishing Duel's realism.

Despite that flaw and a couple of other minor plot issues the execution of this project is rather good and Duel is an important demonstration of Steven Spielberg's capabilities in his early days. Duel is suspenseful. The events happening along the road are feasible. And the chase itself is memorable and haunting. This results in an easy recommendation of Duel to all movie lovers, a recommendation which is even more easier to the fans of Spielberg or to the admirers of thrilling experiences.


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