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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Duel (review)

“Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear” would sound like a threat to poor Dennis Weaver, who’s just driving along a desert highway, minding his own business, when an 18-wheeler leaps out from behind a rock, like Wiley Coyote after the Road Runner, only way more competent. This is, famously, Steven Spielberg’s (Catch Me If You Can) first film, originally made for TV and later released theatrically, and what it is is really his first monster film, that menacing truck a forerunner of the T. rex in the sideview, of the shark eating Robert Shaw, maybe mostly of E.T.’s pursuer with all the keys on his belt: a creepy, inexplicably motiveless hazard (or at least apparently so to the pursed), one to be avoided at all costs, because you know nothing good will come of a meeting. Working with very little dialogue and a script by horror writer Richard Matheson (Stir of Echoes), Spielberg created a masterpiece of visual suspense that’s hardly dated at all, more than 30 years later. Except, perhaps, for Weaver’s moustache, which simply has to go.


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MPAA: rated PG

viewed at home on a small screen

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