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The Duel's most memorable trait is just how forgettable it is. Like a fart in a sandstorm, it makes a momentary, fleeting impression, and even though while watching it The Duel is passably enjoyable, it's too inferior to its genre peers to even warrant comparison.
Everything about The Duel just feels a tad lightweight. Woody Harrelson is grand, but has been better. Liam Hemsworth, fast becoming the Stephen Baldwin of the family, broods, stares and occasionally erupts as the try-hard that's out of his depth but it's closer to a tantrum than intimidating, while the hodgepodge themes of justice, religion, murder, death, myth, marriage and immigration are all nice and neatly presented, but lack any cohesion or panache to fully captivate.
Which is a shame, because The Duel actually begins at a good pace, establishing its plot and conflicts in a speedy and compact manner. After opening on Woody Harrelson's Abraham Brant defeating a man in a Helena duel, we speed 20 years ahead to the 1880s, where the son of Brant's victim, David Kingston (Liam Hemsworth), has grown into a Texas Ranger.
David Kingston is sent to Helena to investigate a number of murders and disappearances in the town, which is where he meets preacher Abraham Brant, who keeps a watchful eye over all of its inhabitants. To keep him close, Brant quickly makes Kingston mayor, giving him the perfect platform to investigate the strange goings on, abundance of tourists from far and wide, and the fearful grip that seems to pervade the town.
Because it touches upon Mexican immigration, the climate of fear, and the flippant use of guns, The Duel actually feels oddly prescient. In fact, its use of these elements actually means it works as a microcosm of US history, too. But rather than these points reflecting modern times or being raised in a serious and provocative manner, they're simply presented in a fashion comparative to a disgruntled, long bored teacher regurgitating the information to her students.
It also doesn't help that The Duel's production values, visual style, and sets are all either too cheap, dank, and a pale imitations of locales from Deadwood and other more recent potent Westerns, respectively, to either elevate or make the film unique.
At the same time, though, The Duel's main narrative, which doffs its cap to The Heart Of Darkness, as well as its various sub-plots, just does enough to satisfy. There's a healthy dose of mystery and intrigue over what's really afoot in Helena, while the sudden bursts of bloody violence help to shake it out of its paralysis.
Plus, watching Woody Harrelson ham it up and eat up the screen is always a delight especially since he's the villain of the piece. But while you're never bored, you are also never thoroughly enthralled, too. Which is actually precisely the problem, and why The Duel is ultimately the cinematic equivalent of the shrug of the shoulders.