The Duel (2016)

Emory Cohen was robbed of the Best Supporting Actor nod for his portrayal of Tony, Saoirse Ronan’s sensitive, working class boyfriend, in Brooklyn in 2015, and I’ve been chasing his career ever since, waiting for him to take a part that is as compelling and magnetic as that one. He hasn’t, but he’s still fascinating to watch no matter how small the role, which is how I end up watching movies like The Duel, a film that bears no resemblance to the polished Brooklyn.

A dirty, unapologetic Western, this movie stars Liam Hemsworth as David Kingston, a Texas Ranger sent to investigate the murders of dozens of Mexicans along the border. He brings his wife, Marisol (Alice Braga), at her insistence to the dusty town of Mount Hermon, which is under the grip of mayor and healer Abraham Brant (Woody Harrelson). Cohen plays his son, Isaac, a young man with any number of demons to be exorcised.

It’s clear before David and Marisol even stumble into town that something is wrong with the place. They enter under the pretense of visiting nearby family, but the calculus changes when Abraham offers David the job of sheriff, one he takes so that he can explore the area with less suspicion. Marisol is at first wary of the eyebrowless preacher dressed in white, but when he corners her in her home and begins speaking of her insecurities, she is bewitched.

The film grabs ahold of several interesting threads. The mystery of the dead bodies clogging up the river doesn’t just reveal the brutality of mankind but also touches on issues of sovereignty, nationalism, and race. Faith takes on mystical qualities as Marisol becomes increasingly drawn to Abraham’s healing powers, and relationships between father and son and husband and wife expose a rot at their core. There’s also the first instance of a duel when Abraham kills David’s father, perhaps allowing revenge to overtake the latter’s sense of duty.

None of these are followed through or proceed in a way that makes a lot of sense, however. Is Marisol really sick or is it all in her head? Why does she suddenly turn from her husband? Also, what is Isaac’s deal? He clearly wants to win his father’s approval, but what is driving them apart to begin with? Mount Hermon is a town that’s good at hiding things, and there’s just too much hidden in this plot to justify any kind of investment in the story or characters.

Instead, the movie banks on the appeal of Abraham. In the hands of Harrelson, that means a wacky personality that dominates the picture despite strong performances from the other actors. Hemsworth the Younger is surprisingly fierce, and his David is more than a righteous stoic. You get the feeling that he’ll always make the just decision even if it’s not the moral one. Braga and Cohen get parts that are not as well written, but they still convey their characters’ bleak and tortured souls. Cohen especially is a live wire. Harrelson, however, wrestles control from every scene he’s in, putting not just the people of Mount Hermon under his spell but the audience as well. There’s a point when Abraham’s zany behavior becomes oppressive though, serving the character alone and not the story.

Released: 2016
Prod: David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Adam Rosenfelt, Maureen Meulen
Dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith
Writer: Matt Cook
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Alice Braga, Emory Cohen, Felicity Price
Time: 109 min
Lang: English, some Spanish
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

The Ridiculous 6

ridiculous 6

Netflix’s recent entry into the Hong Kong market was greeted with much delight, until people discovered the catalog resembled the bargain bin at Walmart. (Still trying to decide if it’s an Aloha or Jackass kind of night.) To be fair, there’s a choice documentary selection, and Ken Burns’s The West turns out to be the best cleanse if you’ve had the misfortune of imbibing The Ridiculous 6, the relentlessly promoted first installment of Netflix’s four picture deal with noted auteur Adam Sandler. It might be aiming for the smallest slice of Blazing Saddles glory, but the unamusing farce about a mismatched gang of robbers is an embarrassment to the western and comedy genres.

Already the subject of controversy during its filming, the finished product does nothing to redeem itself. Native American actors were right to storm off set and divorce themselves from characters with names like Never Wears Bra or Smoking Fox (Julia Jones). When they weren’t being mocked for their physical characteristics, however, they characters were transformed into noble savages, always on hand with a piece of abstract wisdom or a mystical remedy so that Tommy “White Knife” (Sandler), the adopted white son of a Native family and the film’s hero, could save the day. It also shouldn’t surprise that so few women appear in the movie, and those who do are mostly of the painted variety, merely there to be paraded atop men’s shoulders or so that a cowboy might dive headfirst first into her décolletage.

That’s about the sophistication of the humor, par for course for Sandler films. Unless you’re into extended jokes about horses pleasuring mentally challenged teens or equally prolonged decapitation scenes, then you’ll find little to laugh about here. I’m not even sure this plays that well to the frat house crowd. In fact, the antics are suited for a far younger audience, and stripped of its vulgarity, it might be a framework for a passable kids movie.

Like many G-rated adventures, this one revolves around an unlikely group of friends – Tommy, Ramon (Rob Schneider), Chico (Terry Crews), Lil’ Pete (a very un-Team-Jacob-like Taylor Lautner), Herm (Jorge Garcia), and Danny (Luke Wilson) – that embarks on a quest to save a kidnapped man. They soon discover that they are actually brothers and the man they are trying to save is their father (Nick Nolte), and that they must steal the ransom. The Ridiculous 6 is so packed with cameos, however, that not even the brothers turn out anything beyond a one-note performance. Even with its two hour running time, the film makes no room for introspection, leaving most of the main characters as faintly drawn as the minor roles. In fact, Abner Doubleday (John Turturro) shows more flare attempting to invent the game of baseball on the fly than the wordless, grunting Herm, and Vanilla Ice as a hip hop Mark Twain seems oddly appropriate in this age of Hamilton (though as a Hamilton fangirl, I am in no way equating the two). The pleasures are fleeting though, and nothing justifies such abuse of American scenery, the best and only thing going for this movie.

Released: 2015
Prod: Allen Covert, Adam Sandler
Dir: Frank Coraci
Writer: Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler
Cast: Adam Sandler, Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Nick Nolte, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Danny Trejo, Julia Jones, Blake Shelton…..and so many more damn cameos
Time: 119 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016