Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Duel



Duel 1971
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Richard Matheson
Starring Dennis Weaver, Eddie Firestone, Tim Herbert, Lucille Benson and Carey Loftin

I had seen bits and pieces of this film over the years, but had never seen the film in it's entirety. I recently found the DVD for cheap, so I grabbed it and finally watched the film in one shot. I am sorry I waited so long as this is a exceptional thriller. It is anchored with a frantic performance by Dennis Weaver and a great script by the always great Richard Matheson. The film starts off slowly but, quickly ramps up and once the chase is on it does not let up till the finale. Spielberg is really at the top of his game in this film. He ramps up the suspense with each passing moment till the viewer feels the desperation and the fear that Weaver does. It is a great idea to never show the truck driver and not give any logical reason why he is pursuing Weaver. That is what makes the scenario all the more frightening. This is by far the best crazed driver film that has yet to be made. Joyride tried to build on this idea, but it added too much to the mix and doesn't have the effect that this film does.
The plot basics are this, David Marin (Weaver), is driving through the countryside trying to get to a appointment with a client. He has a strained relationship with his family and he is hoping that this appointment will work out. It seems to be going well, until he cuts off a semi truck, and that seems to infuriate the driver of the rig and he then starts to play games with David. He allows him to go in front of him, but he tries to trick him into getting hit by oncoming traffic. David freaks out and stops at a diner, and tries to figure out who the driver is, but he can deduce who he is and the truck leaves and he thinks he is safe and proceeds on his trip. The truck shows up and tries to run him off the road and finally David snaps and enters a battle of wits with the truck driver and it is only a matter of time before one of them makes a mistake that the other will be able to capitalize on.
This is a superbly crafted film. The direction by Spielberg is suspenseful and taut. The scene in the diner is fraught with paranoia that seeps into the viewers psyche as along with David they try to figure out who the driver is. The film is handled with a scalpel edge and it doesn't let you go until the end credits roll. The script by Matheson based on his short story, is economical but very well executed. You only get the briefest feel of David's character, but you can see that he is a Everyman who has trouble standing up for himself. But, now he is in a situation that requires him to man up and deal with a confrontation head on. The cast is good, the film really relies on the performance of Weaver as David though and he pulls it off effortlessly. The best example of this is when he freaks out during the climax, the extreme close up of his breakdown is intense as hell. The action sequences in the film is intense, especially the attack on David at the phone booth and the bombastic finale. This is one of Spielberg's most economical films, but he really pulls it off and makes a tense and harrowing chase film.
This one gets 5 out of 5

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