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Ridley Scott's first film - starring Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel - gets a pretty impressive Blu-ray bump....
Shout! Factory / 100 Minutes / 1977 / Rated PG / Street Date: January 29, 2013
The location is France, at the beginning of the Napoleonic era. The French officer D'Hubert (Keith Carradine), following orders, is sent to arrest the tempestuous Feraud (Harvey Keitel), a rather uncouth and impetuous soldier. Feraud does not take kindly to D'Hubert, and what follows is a duel and a long, arduous period in which D'Hubert and Feraud try to kill each other in the “gentlemanly” way.
In Ridley Scott's first full-length theatrical feature, the mise-en-scene in The Duellists is simply mesmerizing at times. I found the film every bit as visually arresting as the director's later and more acclaimed Blade Runner. Much of the time it is like looking at a classic painting from the Napoleonic era. Though there are some exceptions, camera movement is gradual or nonexistent, allowing the viewer to fully take in and appreciate every part of the frame. The film was relatively low budget, but Scott (who shared part of the financial risk for the film) must have made every cent count.
If The Duellists has a weakness, it is in the story department. The characters are not very interesting. Carradine's character of nobility is boring, and we do not know enough about Keitel's commoner character to do anything more than guess about his motivations. The Duellists is based on the Joseph Conrad short story Duel, which is not surprising considering that there is not much plot in this 100 minute movie. Also somewhat troubling is the choice of the leads, who Scott admits were chosen in order to gain financing for the film. Carradine and Keitel can act, but they were not the best actors for these parts, and their accents did not help matters.
Yet the film does weather such criticisms thanks to its aforementioned visual splendor and the apparent intent of Scott to make a stylistic movie that does not get bogged down in complex story elements. He obviously wanted the film to be repetitive, as that tells something about the characters and brings up the central question in the film, which is why they would continue on such a course? Honor is merely folly when one is dead, but is either of them capable of arriving at this realization?