Sunday, 5 March 2017

Duel - Film Review

fig.1 film poster

Directed by Steven Spielberg, “Duel” is a 1971 thriller film. Being Spielberg’s first film it has set up a string of his early movies that will follow his theme on masculinity and its decline in the modern world. “Duel” has been recognised for its use of tension and suspense. Alongside grabbing the audience’s attention “Duel” has been essential to Spielberg’s future films in contributing to elements traditional seen in his work.
The film follows David Mann, the protagonist as he provokes a truck driver. This results in the attempted murder of Mann by the mystery driver. In the end Mann stands up to the driver, confronting him leading to the driver’s death. While the film follows David Mann in his trip across the country and his near death experience it ultimately expresses how men are caged in modern society. This is a concept that has been carried over in a number of Spielberg’s early films in comparison to his later films depicting his change in accordance with his own family life.
The concept of the caged man is expressed within the very first scenes of the film as Mann drives from his home to the desert. The safe city life contradicts that of the desert where Mann is far from society its sanctuary. He steps away from his normal life that he is used to into that of the desert, foreign and hostile with little for people or creatures to survive on.
Spielberg continues with the theme as name given the main character is a statement of the status of men in itself. With the name Mann it is quite clear that the character has been labelled to represent the majority of men who have been reduced to living a plain life.
This message is added to as Spielberg makes use of diegetic sound from the radio of the car. While it can be difficult to distinguish the words the radio frequently makes comments on issues that are presented to men in a modern world. This is a component used Spielberg to great effect to add to the underlying issues expressed without outright stating it.
“These and a few whimsical conversations from a call-in radio show are really all the character development the movie provides” (Maslin, J. 1983)
In context with the time the film was released, the 70s was a time of change in correlation with gender equality. The life style of America began to change with more and more women openly protesting for a change in the way they live their lives. As a result women closed the gap in difference between the sexes gaining equal opportunities as men. A possible outcome would have been that men would feel threatened by this change and that their very masculinity was at risk.
In terms of story writing “Duel” is very simple as the plot is linear, Mann angers a driver (who is never revealed) and proceeds to get chased down by him. There is very little to support the story as the driver simply gets angry without any real justification spending countless hours hunting Mann. However this displays how effective tension and suspense can be at holding an audience’s attention. With little to no explanation the film is held together with the strong use of camera work and tense scenes of fast cars and action.
Very little dialogue is actually used to convey the story and instead action fulfils the task of storytelling. This is assisted through the use of camera angles to direct the audience. One good example of this is when the truck is depicted. It is clear that the audience is supposed to fear this vehicle as the type of shot used is a low angle shot. This makes the truck appear more imposing which is combined with the size of the vehicle giving a menacing appearance.

fig.2 low angle shot of truck

Altogether “Duel” is the first of Spielberg’s films and as of such has opened up his career as a film director. The film itself is a strong example of how camera work and tension can be used to great effect opening up the film direction for future films such as “Jaws”.

Freer, I. "EMPIRE ESSAY: Duel Review" (accessed 03/03/17)
Lyne, C. (accessed 03/03/17)
Maslin, J. "'SPIELBERG'S 'DUEL,' FOUR-WHEEL COMBAT" (accessed 03/03/17)

Illustration List
fig.1 film poster (accessed 03/03/17)

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