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THE DUELLISTS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Edward Fox, Cristina Raines, Robert Stephens, Albert Finney
Director: Ridley Scott
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround, French Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: December 3, 2002

“We came here to kill each other. Any ground is suitable for that.”

Film ***

Watching The Duellists, I could easily sense where Ridley Scott was going with what was then his first most ambitious film. Prior to Alien and Blade Runner, Scott was an unknown directing talent who had engaged in directing television series and commercials, and while this film seemed to pass by the public back in 1977, it achieved a certain cult status with fans as years went by. It also managed to garner Scott a prize award for Best Debut Film at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. Being a master craftsman of cinematic atmosphere in such recent gems as Black Hawk Down and Gladiator, Scott establishes his mark here in a film of profound beauty.

Adapted from the Joseph Conrad story, The Duel, the movie explores the art and purpose behind sword-fight duels that took place in the early 1800s in between two men in Napoleon’s army. The more noble of the two is Lieutenant d’Hubert (Keith Carradine) who opposes to the very idea of challenging a man to a duel. Challenging on this issue is Lieutenant Feraud (Harvey Keitel), who has just brutally defeated the mayor’s nephew in a bloodthirsty duel. The two men soon become sworn enemies, and agree to take on one another in the very same art of war.

The twist to this story concept is that the battle between these two men spans an unexpected length, about twenty years to be exact. Feraud and d’Hubert’s bitter rivalry is put aside due to France going to war. However, even in the midst of fighting for honor and country, the diabolical Feraud cannot seem to resist a fight when he feels one is warranted. But matters become intensely complicated when d’Hubert desires to begin a normal domestic life for himself. This is mostly caused by the woman he loves, who urges him to stop agreeing to the unnecessary battles, which would be easy if it weren’t for Feraud’s somewhat deranged and insistent quest of “honor”.

There are two primary strengths in The Duellists, the conviction of the two leads and, of course, Ridley Scott’s strong directing. Keitel has always been a most intense actor, and this quality suits him well in the role of the bloodthirsty Feraud. Keith Carradine has always been my favorite of the Carradine acting trio, which would also include brothers David and Robert, and he is much convincing as the wise and morally driven d’Hubert.

The Duellists may serve as somewhat of a one-note movie, but those in search of true cinematic atmosphere should take notice of this film. The look of the movie is indeed the true star of the piece, and it helped introduce the world to the uncompromising cinematic vision of Ridley Scott.

Video ***

For a 1970s release, Paramount has done a most impressive job on the video quality of this disc. The anamorphic presentation practically embraces every ounce of atmosphere displayed by Ridley Scott’s directing. About every scene in the movie is in an outdoor setting, providing some nicely crisp sequences. The presentation’s only flaw is a few cases of softness in a couple of dimly lit scenes. But otherwise, this is a most superb offering. The closing shot alone is a shining example of the beauty of DVD.

Audio **1/2

The real audio power in this disc lies within the sword fighting scenes, which the remastered 5.1 audio mix serves very well. As for the rest of the film, apart from a sweeping music score by Howard Blake, the movie is mostly powered by dialogue and scenes that are deprived of much sound strength.

Features ***1/2

Some nice touches here as Paramount applies their Collector’s Edition touch to provide some purely neat extras. First off, there are two commentary tracks; one with Ridley Scott, an the other an isolated music score with commentary by composer Howard Blake. Also featured is a featurette called “Duelling Directors”, a nice interview piece with Ridley Scott conducted by fellow director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Count of Monte Cristo). Included as well are a photo gallery, storyboards, a trailer, and Ridley Scott’s first short film, Boy and Bicycle.

Summary:

The Duellists is a magnificent looking film that is a perfect and noteworthy introduction to a masterful director, and should very much satisfy those who are enthralled by sweeping swashbucklers.