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The Duellists
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Duellists More at IMDbPro »

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72 out of 76 people found the following review useful:

Brilliant, understated, and thoroughly human.

10/10
Author: Lucretius
6 April 2002

This /is/ one of the best sword-fighting movies ever made, in that the choreography doesn't look like choreography. In the fight sequences, there's that rare sense of reticence, chance, uncertainty: of men thinking while they fight and trying to stay alive (The battle scenes in Kurosawa seem to me to share the same quality).

What sets this film apart (beyond its sheer visual gorgeousness) is its unremitting humanity and realism. Carradine as the protagonist is a decent enough, reasonable enough chap trying to live by an unreasonable and inflexible code. Keitel as Feraud is a cipher: charged with a wholly unreasonable hate the sources of which we never see. The movie steps through the ups and downs of war, fashion, politics. Though the film's structured around a series of violent combats, the struggle is finally a moral one. One man finally transcends the ideal of honor that's kept him a prisoner for fifteen years. The other is unable to.

This is a movie to watch, and to recommend to one's friends. It's lamentably not available yet in DVD, but can be found occasionally as a rental. Watch it for the costumes, the lighting, and the gorgeous camerawork. Watch it again for a movie that takes on The Big Issues. Brilliant.

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62 out of 72 people found the following review useful:

The Casting Of A Perfect Shadow

Author: Ulrich Fehlauer (schogger13@t-online.de) from Lemgo / Germany
16 April 2003

The Duellists is remarkable in lots of ways. For one, it's a masterpiece debut. It's also one of the very rare films putting a director on the map who keeps delivering what the debut already displayed in abundance. What's more, it is even rarer in so far that this movie hasn't aged a single day, which can't be explained away with the fact that it's a period piece. It stands the test of time as flawlessly as two other legendary debuts, Orson Welles's Citisen Kane and John Huston's Maltese Falcon. The flipside displays a mystery. The Duellists is an almost totally unknown film. To this day it hasn't earned what it had cost to make it in 1977: 900.000$. That, without doubt, makes it the most underrated masterpiece by one of THE directors of his generation.

The basis was simple and commanding: The adaptation of the classic Joseph Conrad story 'The Duel'. The result is a lesson in perfect cinematic storytelling. And it's also a lesson in the forgotten art of low budget moviemaking. Not a single frame suggests that 'more' would've been better. The required economy of every single aspect of production always finds its perfect answer in the execution of the story. What you can't see or hear doesn't need to be there. It's as simple as that. Suffice to say, Ridley Scott being the director he is, The Duellists is visually superb and at the same time devoid of a single frame just being there to look good. His visual style is completely dependent on the substance of the story as well as the acting. That becomes blindingly obvious in his weaker films, where he resorts to 'beautifying' an empty shell. No other great director is as much a slave of the story's quality, before he can become its master. But once a strong moment, a powerful dialogue, a strong character hits his senses, he 'translates' their life into his unique visual language. In that he is almost without comparison. What we sometimes later perceive as only beautiful is always as essential to the story as a note in a symphony is essential to the next one to make 'sense'. The almost hauntingly arcadian, rural opening shot of the movie is a perfect example. The little girl with her geese leads us through innocence and peace across the screen... and bumps with us into the towering Husar blocking the path. No words. Just eyes making the girl lead her geese away from the path, away from what the Husar is guarding against unwanted onlookers. We're already hooked into the story on more than one level, and the cut to the duellists on the open field tells us where paradise ends. That's Ridley Scott in his purest form. The beauty of his style is in fact visual drama, and the power of his language is as visible now as it was in 1977. In 'Gladiator', watch the transition from Maximus's cornfild dream to the tortured earth of the battlefield in Germania and you'll see what I mean. That's why Scott is also an actor's director. He always makes sense to them and the characters with every move of the camera and sets them in the best possible light for what's required. He likes good actors, which isn't as normal as one might think. There isn't a hollow second to be found in each and every performance on The Duellists. That the casting is flawless down to the last extra helped, of course. All this explains much of the ageless quality of the movie. No hollow set pieces to 'jazz it up a bit'. Only authentic locations and no built sets. Costumes, makeup, props... everything totally convincing and fitting to the period. It's virtually impossible to determine the movie's age without knowing the actors. Scott turned an ageless story into an ageless movie. An excellent script and extremely good acting all round helped him do it.

For me The Duellists is the first of 3 consecutive masterpieces (the other two are, of course ALIEN and Blade Runner), unrivalled since John Huston's first 3 films.

10 out of 10 Ulrich Fehlauer

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35 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

the best understanding of Napoleon's age ever (thanks to Conrad)

10/10
Author: arieleviacavafollis from United States
15 May 2005

The best issue about this movie, other than, of course, the aesthetic perfection, is its absolute fidelity to Conrad's short novel. I think this is very good in the movie because the book is so good, and it would have made no sense try to change it in the least way, as it often happens when movies come out of books (for example, Kubrick always made his films somehow look different from the books they are taken from, and I should say often improved them, but in many other cases it's true the opposite). It's noteworthy saying that in another, more popular, Ridley Scott's movie such as Blade Runner, always derived from a novel, important changes have been made from the original story ( in that case, all the part about the 'empathy' religion doesn't appear in the movie, and I think it was a good choice to omit it). But ' The Duelists' had to stick to the book! The point about the Duelists is all about the rich simplicity of its being a movie: Ridley Scott just takes the story as it is, and it's a damn good one, and he tells it to us in the best possible way, with an incredible attention to the graphical details (the duel scenes are just one better than the other), and an amazing use of the camera (the boxing scene, the horse riding duel). Now, going back to the story, in less than 100 pages, Conrad managed in explaining everything about the great illusion of Napoleon's empire, without the emperor ever appearing in it. It's incredible how he managed making the ever lasting duel between the two officials a great metaphor of that age, still keeping the two characters real and alive. The movie gives you all this. Watch it!

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37 out of 42 people found the following review useful:

Good looking debut

Author: Dodger-9 from York
25 November 2000

After making a string of acclaimed adverts, Ridley Scott followed fellow ad man Alan Parker onto the big screen with his debut movie.

The Duellists was based on a tale by Joseph Conrad (who inspired Apocalypse Now and the ship names for his 1979 feature, Alien - Nostromo and Narcissus).

As you my expect from Ridley, every scene looks gorgeous and is obviously the mark of a man moving from 30 second promotional films into the big screen world.

Harvey Keitel (later to star in Thelma and Louise) and Keith Carradine are the Hollywood stars acting alongside a wealth of British thesps including Albert Finney, Diana Quick, Tom Conti, Pete Postlethwaite and Veronica Quilligan (later to play the innocent protagonist of Neil Jordan's Angel).

The movie is clearly inspired by Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory and Barry Lyndon and looks like a dry run for Gladiator's battle scenes.

It deals with the themes of honor, obsession and violence. Needless to say, the futility of war and the destructive nature of revenge leads to the twist that both men have been duelling for so long, in the end they actually forget what it was that set them off on their feud.

The duels are stunning, the attention to detail is meticulous and the movie won a string of awards, including 'Best Debut Film' at the 1977 Cannes film festival.

Top trivia

* The budget was so tight that Scott was forced to use producer David Puttnam and other crew members as extras.

This was an extension of his earlier short films, a potted version of Paths of Glory in which a handful of extras (including Tony Scott) go over the wire and run round the camera before repeating the exercise. Smoke and editing hide the fact that there were so few people involved.

*The Duel, as it was originally called, was to be made for French TV as a one-hour film.

*The scene where the French army is bogged down was shot in a ski resort near Inverness.

*After EMI turned down the script, Scott flew the project to Chicago and the company Hallmark...

*After the French deal collapsed and the $700,000 budget proved too rich for Hallmark's blood, one of the bosses saw its potential as a film and suggested that Scott try and make it as a movie.

*The eventual budget was a mere $900,000. Scott clinched the dealing by telling Paramount he would put up a completion bond and that he would start pre-production on the day of the meeting. He would start shooting within a couple of months.

The thought of filming a movie like that in September left the suits slack of jaw.

In the sun-kissed world of la la land, making a Joseph Conrad movie in Winter sounded like a nightmare.

*Scott had originally wanted to make a Western but lacked the cash to fly off to Monument Valley and the locations of other such classic John Ford Westerns.

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28 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

One of the few great, timeless movies.

10/10
Author: matija from Ljubljana, Slovenia
6 May 2000

Often, when you watch a movie, you can tell when it was made.

It deals with the mores and prejudices of the time it was made. The costumes are done without attention to detail or the hair-styles of the leading actors don't belong to the time when the movie is supposed to be taking place.

Not this movie.

It deals with timeless themes: courage, fate, inevitability,

honor. The costumes are impeccable, and even the hair-styles change as time progresses, exactly as the fashions changed during the times of the Napoleon. Without knowing the actors (though the cast is composed of excellent, justifiably famous artists), there is no way to tell it was made in 1977. It might have been made yesterday, or it might have been filmed on the spot.

If you enjoy a movie where attention was paid to every detail to make it a true piece of art, if you enjoy dramatic photography thoughtful themes, and just the barest suggestion of dry humor, this is the movie for you.

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28 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

A fine wine of a movie

Author: Quentin from Vancouver Island, British Columbia
2 July 2002

The whole touch and "feel" of this marvellous movie is like slowly sipping a wonderfully rich and satisfying glass of superb wine. At regular moments throughout the film, the director takes the time to give you a photographic setting of the scene and you feel like you're looking at some great painting or masterpiece on canvas while still looking at a piece of atmospheric photography. The duelling is rivettingly realistic and the characters of the two main protagonists are rounded, deep and fascinating. Keitel is just a plain nasty man who is arrogant, hate-filled and remorselessly vindictive, never forgetting an enemy, even one of his own creating from an imagined slight. The resulting feud drags on for about 15 years, with Keitel determined to avenge himself and kill his more honorable and sometimes rather bemused arch-enemy out of blood-lust, pure vindictiveness and a desire to inflict a humiliating defeat - something he is repeatedly denied. The end solution is perfect. Sit back and enjoy a brilliant and ageless portrayal of two men caught up in the Napoleonic Wars, including the mercilessly cold Retreat from Moscow. Usually I don't particularly care for this kind of repeat-fighting gendre of a movie but this somehow manages to climb out of that kind of a mire. Out of 10, I rate this another flawless 10.

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29 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

Just great

10/10
Author: liderc from Austria
29 March 2004

A really wonderful movie that lives from the great script, the exceptionally good actors (from the major to the minor roles), the very well done directing and an outstanding score. The cast is really good, from the main actors to Diana Quick and to such interesting and sadly underrated actors as Morgan Sheppard and Liz Smith. This movie shows that, provided with a good script, Ridley Scott once was able to do really good movies. If you think this movie is heartless just compare this debut with the first movie done by Ridley's brother Tony, the hollow "The Hunger". The only drawback is his taste for sometimes overdone and unnatural photography. The script is surprisingly faithful to the original story by Joseph Conrad (that one really should read). If you are looking for a movie full of style and grace you will find it here!

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21 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

definitely worth watching

Author: Barbara H (b4peace) from Sydney, Australia
14 May 2002

Seems this film has left most viewers with only positive comments to make (quite rare actually). I agree with most of them.

This is a very believable film and is beautiful to watch in parts thanks to Scott's eye for design and natural beauty, esepecially regarding the use of light.

I was mesmerised to know how it was all going to end. I was so sure it was going to end tragically but then was surprised and elevated by the ending that showed the richness & depth of the human experience. I believe there's some meaning for us all in this movie. And I got to hear about this movie by accident!

An amazing quality of a film overall when you read about it's history, which was almost not made!

8/10

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24 out of 38 people found the following review useful:

Conrad + Scott = Great Film

10/10
Author: trenton_scott (trenton_scott@msn.com) from Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
16 December 1999

With Conrad's story-telling ability and Scott's superb eye, how can you miss? You cannot! This is a superb film. It is my favorite Scott feature and resides in my top-five list. Now, if only Scott would adapt another of Conrad's great short-stories....

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

It's like watching a Romantic-era painting.

Author: mykelock from Kentucky
25 December 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is very easily one of the most beautiful things to look at that has ever appeared in motion pictures. Whether it be the gentleness of the French countryside, the harshness of a Russian winter, or the heat and passion of combative swordplay, one is completely mesmerized by the cinematography.

The acting is extremely good as well. In my opinion, it's the best performance of both Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel in a motion picture. The character study pits Carradine and Keitel as French officers during the Napoleonic Wars. Keitel is an embittered, bully-like rogue pitted against Carradine's soft-spoken, duty-bound gentleman. The movie never makes it absolutely clear as to why Keitel is the "way he is", but it doesn't need to. Both men are bound by their own visions of honor and are constantly battling one another throughout the film.

***SPOILER*** There are poignant moments as well. I particularly found it touching during a cavalry charge duel in which a close-up finds Carradine's character's hand shaking violently from fear prior to the charge. This particular scene was also fantastic for it's originality. We have all seen and heard of duelling with swords and pistols (which this film also has an abundance of), but to show a cavalry duel shows an homage to the era, and historical accuracy of the film as well.

The costumes and props are well researched and fantastically reproduced for this movie. I highly recommend this "sleeper" type film to anyone. Other than Orson Welles and "Citizen Kane", I think this is the best directorial debut I have ever seen (Ridley Scott). Seeing it on DVD is remarkable.

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