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While traveling through the desert for an appointment with a client, the businessman David Mann from California passes a slow and old tanker truck. The psychotic truck driver feels offended and chases David along the empty highway trying to kill him. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
From the opening credits, where we see a POV of David Mann's car pulling out of his driveway off to who-knows-where, the viewer knows their in for something special. Indeed, Duel is something special. It's essentially a 90 minute chase with the occasional brief intermissions for scenery change. This could get old really quick, and indeed it does get old . . . but I can't help but watch in amazement and observe how long Spielberg kept me engaged in just two vehicles on open roads.
And interestingly enough, ten minutes after the film started boring me it recaptured my interest for the breathtaking finale.
After Duel, the Creeper truck and the semi from JoyRide are pushovers. This is the Freddy Krueger of vehicles, and the truck (not its driver) is treated as the bad guy. I particularly loved when the truck was shot in silhouette through the tunnel - beautiful and haunting composition. Also the shots where the camera pulls around Mann's car and travels parallel up along the truck simply put, 'awesome cinematography.' The high number of interesting shots (on location, no less) of the truck chasing Mann is what really drives this film forward. It takes a long time for this particular flair and flavor of film to get boring.
Dennis Weaver plays his part of David extremely well; unfortunately, I didn't much care for the spineless middle-class Joe-shmo character on the page. I think part of my dislike comes from those annoying internal monologues that were totally unnecessary. It's always been a cheap gimmick in my mind, and Weaver truly communicates those emotions without the added soundtrack. Still, despite a character that I did not like, Duel managed to keep me engaged in the story . . . strangely enough.
Earlier I spoke of brief intermissions from the chase; notice I didn't say the tension is eased up here. Spielberg finds ways to lace these breathers with suspense through the presence of the truck (still, more to do with the truck itself than the driver). And really, it's through these intermissions that we meet other (very colorful) characters who make quite an impact considering their bit parts (then again, maybe it's due to the fact that juxtaposed to an empty desert any character is colorful).
I appreciate the lack of any real information, lack of a motive, lack of background story on Mann, very little info (if any) on Mann's destination. I do, however, think Spielberg went just a bit too far with the ambiguity; however, that's a very minor complaint that I don't care to dwell on. Sure a few points needed to be touched on more, but then again the Freddy Krueger of diesel trucks is chasing you, are you really going to stop and ask it a question?
I wish the character emotions had taken the same route instead of feeding the audience those redundant internal monologues. Oh well, there's a fun contrast for you.
In my review of T3, I wrote 'I wonder what director will be the first to direct the very first film composed solely of one action scene?' Spielberg comes pretty damn close, and the funny thing is his 60+ minutes of chase footage is more interesting than the new millennium's 10+ minute chases. Rock on Steven!
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