- Dennis Weaver as David Mann
Duel marked the debut of Steven Spielberg and though it was made for television, it later got a cinematic release. And it isn’t hard to see why because Duel is a mercilessly tense thriller that will have you biting your nails and removing sweat from your brow as it takes a simple premise and transforms it into something menacing.
David Mann is just a regular kind of guy; a mild-mannered salesman who is driving to a business trip using a highway in the California desert. All is well until he encounters an enormous and grimy truck that is initially driving very slow. Wanting to go quicker, David takes over the truck so he won’t miss his business. This in turn then angers the truck driver, who begins to deliberately slow again and blare his horn. After losing him, David just puts it down to the guy being annoyed with him and brushes it off as nothing to really worry about. But as he drives on and the truck begins to stalk him, things get very alarming very quickly. The truck tries to run him off the road, toys with him psychologically as well as physically. Starting to get very frightened by the ordeal that continues, the normally placid David realises that he must dig deep into a fighting strength he never knew he had in order to survive the chases that the madman in the truck puts him through. Putting the pedal down, he is now in a chase that could end in death for him but is the only chance of living through this ordeal. The question is, can David survive these persistent attacks from the unreasonable driver who brings new meaning to the word road rage and make it out in one piece?
Steven Spielberg displays a deft aptitude for action and thrills in his direction that is full of confidence and style. Jaws may have been the movie that made him a household name, but Duel shows how his style and expertise begin in this creepy thriller that practically burns with a feeling of unnerving and unrelenting menace. Duel, in essence has a very simple story line that is just as thrilling as some convoluted thrillers and shows that you don’t need something overly complex to make an effective thriller. This is a movie that is filled with so many memorable moments that it’s hard to list them but I’ll try to list some of the ones that stood out for me. The opening in which David is just travelling with nothing out the ordinary is brilliant in the way it lulls us into a false sense of security that evaporates into full on terror. A diner scene in which David attempts to identify the assailant is marvellously staged and conducted. And not forgetting the chase scenes that make up basically most of the movie’s economical running time. Duel seriously only lets up from the high-speed road rage for about two or three times in the movies, placing us in David’s terrified position. A score that begins out in minimal fashion soon builds to creeping crescendos and slithering suspense that is very hard to shake and makes the road rage depicted in Duel even more sinister.
The main character in the story is David and he is played very well by Dennis Weaver. Because he is the character that gets the most to do, the whole film sort of hangs on him and he does a very commendable job. Weaver captures the fear that the driver causes him but also the digging into himself to find something that will help survive. The use of an interior monologue to bring his tortured thoughts out is an excellent device that helps Weaver get into the character’s head and put the audience in his position of uncertainty and shock.
Laden with tension and barely letting you go once it pulls you in, Duel is a confident debut film from Steven Spielberg who would go on to become and still is one of the best filmmakers in the business.