Ridley Scott has become one of Hollywood’s greatest and most admired directors. From redefining science fiction with his classics Alien and Blade Runner to megahit Thelma and Louise to epics like 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, he has tackled many genre’s and always left his distinct signature on them. Last year he even returned to the universe of his most celebrated work, Alien, with a prequel, Prometheus, that was the talk of movie fans for pretty much the rest of the year. But his feature film career started in 1977 with much more intimate film called The Duellists, which is now on Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of Shout! Factory.
Set during the Napoleonic age, Feraud (Harvey Keitel) is a French army officer who is prone to getting into duels with those who insult him. During some down time, Feraud gets into a duel and severely injures a man whom he later discovers is the nephew of the Mayor of Strasbourg. Feraud’s commanding officer demands to see him and sends Lieutenant Armand d’Hubert (Keith Carradine) to fetch him so Feraud can be put under house arrest. When d’Hubert finds Feraud and demands he return, Feraud proclaims himself unjustly called and insulted, challenging d’Hubert to a duel as well. Their duel ends in a draw, but for the next 15 years of their lives, they continue to meet and duel to settle their feud, never seeming to resolve the conflict.
The story of The Duellists is interesting to be sure, but is also the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. The whole feud starts for almost no reason whatsoever, with Keitel’s character practically being sociopathic about the whole thing. The acting across the board is excellent as is Scott’s direction. You can really see the seeds of his talents on display and see much foreshadowing of his future storytelling style. But I found myself really despising the two lead characters. Feraud is a maniac, obsessed beyond reason and I really found myself wishing d’Hubert would win and do him in. d’Hubert isn’t much better, always giving in to Feraud’s requests and fuelling the fire for many many years. In the end, I didn’t really care about the characters and for that reason I didn’t love the movie. But as a first feature from a great talent, it is a beautiful film that is very well made.
The Blu-ray from Shout! Is very nice for a film of its vintage. It retains a nice warm filmic tone with grain that is not intrusive, and the scenery on display looks gorgeous. The picture tends to be a little soft, but that would be mostly due to the age and budget of the film. Overall this is a nice presentation of the film.
Available now on Blu-ray and DVD.