By Devan Coggan
June 22, 2016 at 05:48 PM EDT

The Duel (2016 film)

  • Movie

After playing fellow District 12 residents in The Hunger Games, Woody Harrelson and Liam Hemsworth have reunited for Kieran Darcy-Smith’s bloody Western, and this time, instead of fighting against the oppressive Capitol, they’re facing off against each other. On one side, we have Harrelson as Abraham, a magnetic (and thoroughly creepy) preacher who’s set up a small town near the Texas-Mexico border. On the other, we have Hemsworth as David, a bland Texas ranger tasked with investigating the dead bodies that keep showing up in the river nearby. Most of the bodies are Mexican, and when the niece of a Mexican military general goes missing, the Texan governor’s office sends David to investigate the mysterious preacher and try to prevent an all-out war from breaking out between the two countries. Oh, and as an added wrinkle, Abraham happens to be the man who killed David’s father two decades ago.  

So, David saddles up and heads toward the border, with vengeance on his mind and his wife Marisol (Alice Braga) in tow. We soon learn their marriage is a rocky one, as Marisol was promised to David in return for saving her father’s life. She threatens to run away if he leaves her behind, but still, it’s probably not the best idea to bring along your Mexican wife when you’re investigating a series of murders all targeting Mexicans.

Once the pair arrives, posing as travelers, Abraham welcomes them with open arms, leering at Marisol and immediately appointing David as sheriff of the town, which is a completely normal thing to do with strangers you’ve just met. From the outset, everything about Abraham’s little homestead feels off, whether it’s the cult-like snake-handling in the local church or the random British and Chinese travelers who keep passing through. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that something very strange is going on in town, but just to drive the point home, the saloon’s resident hooker with a heart of gold informs David that yes, something very strange is going on in town.

The plot may be fairly predictable, but Harrelson goes all in as the deranged preacher, and he’s a delight to watch, whether he’s wiggling his eyebrow tattoos or prancing about town on horseback, dressed in an all-white suit. Hemsworth, on the other hand, remains monotone, even when unearthing the town’s deadly secrets (which, once uncovered, turn this Western into more of a horror flick). It should be fascinating to watch as the town’s secret horrors transform David into a morally loose and bloodthirsty ranger, questing for vengeance. Instead, Hemsworth’s emotionless performance (and a murky subplot about his wife’s inexplicable descent into madness) mean that this scattershot Western misses its mark. C

The Duel (2016 film)

  • Movie
  • R
release date
  • 06/24/16
  • 110 minutes
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  • The Duel (2016 film)