Movie Review: Duel (1971)
Seen: On dvd on our project set-up, rented from the Tufts Library.

A condescending businessman named David Mann (Dennis Weaver) sets off on the road for a very important meeting with a client, hoping to close a big deal or something I don’t know. On the lonely desert highway he finds himself running up against a dirty, obstinate trucker, who seems hellbent on making him late. As their drive progresses it becomes clear that the trucker wants to kill David, and their inconvenient cat-and-mouse game becomes a fight for survival. They match wits and horsepower in a one-on-one struggle as David finds his seemingly firm grip on reality completely upended by one enigmatic driver. It is a… DUEL.

With a simple but terrifying premise and expertly expanding tension, the Spielberg/Matheson team has crafted a tight and gripping thriller that is refreshingly no-fuss. Most of the story takes place on deserted desert roads, stretched thin between scattered gas stations and divey diners. As it becomes clearer that this truck really has it in for David, and as his disbelief and fear grow in proportion, the apprehension spills over onto the viewer and it’s hard to pull away. The script has minimal dialogue, which apart from some off-putting voiceover works really well. Spielberg is deliberate in his framing and shot construction, though there are unwanted details made apparent on a big screen (this was made for tv). I especially loved how the truck was presented, always looming at the edge of the frame, and never ever revealing the driver inside. The truck itself is the villain, sporting mashed license plates from previous kills and silently, unwaveringly pushing his prey to the edge.

Our protagonist, David, is mostly just a self-absorbed asshole, and to be honest I was on the side of the unseen trucker most of the time. He was just such a dick, and he talked too much, and he was a shitty husband, and probably a Republican. So even though I think this movie is really cool, the fact that the lead character is so annoying but somehow triumphant kind of lessened its impact as a whole. Also I kind of wanted more focus on David being driven insane by these weird mind games the trucker was playing, where no one else saw or believed him. Still so good though.


Pair This Movie With: Well I still haven’t seen it but I’m guessing scary truck movie Maximum Overdrive fits the bill.

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