The film starts in a gritty, almost thriller-like way, with two brothers being chased by violent bullies, and then talked to by a cop who seems to enjoy meaningless violence and intimidation. Then, as the film transitions to present day, we see these two brothers, Dare and Roost, all grown up. Right away, you see the dynamic between the two of them. Dare is the protector, the one who keeps everything under his control, adamant on carrying out justice and rooting out the evil in the city. Roost, on the other hand, is sheltered, comforted by the fantasy of being the "Duke," right out of old western movies. While Roost stays at home carrying out this fantasy and listening to a radio talk show about self-confidence and self-empowerment, Dare is on a mission to find the infamous Winky, a man who has consumed his thoughts and has terrorized the city he is sworn to protect. We soon come to find that Dare is not a member of law enforcement, but is acting on his own. Meanwhile, actual law enforcement detectives are also trying to find Winky and one of them, Morrison, has his own problems with obsessing over this man, preventing him to think clearly (evident when he decides to go under cover, is made, and gets beaten up).
Throughout the film, Dare also battles with his own demons, keeping hold of the past, which prevents him from looking to the future and letting go of his drive for justice. He can rarely see the good because of the evil that has consumed his life. That changes when Cookie, a local prostitute he was using to get information, gets killed, and Duke finds out from her friend Joan. She then gives an impassioned speech and reveals a letter Cookie had written to Dare. It is after that he realizes that if you're always hanging on to the evil in your life, you will overlook the good, and miss it before it's too late. He then takes his brother Roost, dressed in police uniform and fulfilling his fantasy as "Duke," to his local diner. There, as he is ready to move forward at last, he finds himself face to face with Winky. Chaos ensues, and in that chaos, Roost unknowingly shoots Dare's friend, believing he had his brothers back like his brother always had his. This sadly causes him to go home and kill himself, believing he had failed Dare and failed himself. Dare then decides to go to a police precinct dressed as a cop and has one more duel with a mirage of recently passed Roost, not before become aware that the Lieutenant is the same cop who has antagonized his dreams and his childhood. He goes out in a blaze of glory, most likely, but we don't see that, as the screen cuts to black and only a single gun shot rings out. But the last thing we see on his face is a smile. Something that hadn't been seen the entire film.
Duke is a film about when good is taken from this world, leaving only evil to consume you, and the journey to finding that good again. Through all of life's trials and tribulations, finding the goodness within yourself and within others can make you feel at peace. Dare certainly felt at peace in that final shot.
A well-shot labor of love, The Gaudioso Twins did a great job with a story that, although jumped around a bit and wasn't the most fluid, showed the viewer the underbelly of life. You'll come out of watching this reflecting on your own life and the hope that we are all able to find some good in this world before we leave it.
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