Spielberg's Road Rage

Duel (1971)

On his way for a business appointment miles from home, David Mann (Dennis Weaver) finds himself stuck behind a huge oil truck billowing smoke at him as he follows behind. When he makes his move to overtake he thinks nothing of it as he does so safely but immediately the driver of the dirty truck overtakes him and starts pumping even more smoke at him. But for David it doesn't stop there as for reasons beyond David's knowledge the driver decides to make his journey a nightmare following him, trying to run him off the road and generally tormenting for mile after miles.

I've said it before, watching older movies, which have gained some sort of status, many years after they were made can be a disappointing experience. This can be down to the general changes in cinema from styles to technology or because since that movie was made others have come along and done a similar thing better. It is why 45 years after a then little known director by the name of Steven Spielberg made "Duel" I find myself watching it for the first time and to be honest ending up disappointed especially even when taking in to account how the face of cinema has changed over the years.

Now part of the trouble is that "Duel" is simple as we have a mild mannered businessman ending up a victim of intimidation by the unseen driver of a big truck who for no logical reason tries to terrorize him. That is it and as such we see how the repetitive nature of this truck following David around affects him from making him nervous to eventually snapping. But it isn't enough for me and to be brutally honest I found all of this tedious, yes there are moments of action in "Duel" but it is almost monotonous rather than relentless which I am sure was the intention.

The other issue for me is that "Duel" due to its almost minimal nature of David, his car and the looming presence of the dirty truck relies heavily on Dennis Weaver to draw the audience in. Unfortunately for me Weaver doesn't achieve it and whilst some of that comes from the writing with David being an ordinary bloke it is also the performance because it is all incredibly ordinary.

What this all boils down to is that "Duel" might have worked for audiences back in 1971 but watched now for the first time it doesn't have the same effect although it is interesting as an example of early Spielberg.

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