The Duellists

After an almost imperceptible slight to his honour, gruff Napoleonic soldier Harvey Keitel challenges effete cavalryman Keith Carradine to a duel. The duel is fought, the outcome is inconclusive, and thus begins 16 long years of sporadic but all-consuming bouts between these two barely acquainted foes. An ambitious 1977 Cannes Award-winning debut from Ridley Scott, The Duellists is visually sumptuous, and is nicely underplayed by both Keitel and the endearingly camp Carradine. Yet it's a film defined by the brevity of its source material, a 'short' short story by Joseph Conrad.

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After an almost imperceptible slight to his honour, gruff Napoleonic soldier Harvey Keitel challenges effete cavalryman Keith Carradine to a duel. The duel is fought, the outcome is inconclusive, and thus begins 16 long years of sporadic but all-consuming bouts between these two barely acquainted foes. An ambitious 1977 Cannes Award-winning debut from Ridley Scott, The Duellists is visually sumptuous, and is nicely underplayed by both Keitel and the endearingly camp Carradine. Yet it’s a film defined by the brevity of its source material, a ‘short’ short story by Joseph Conrad. Here we have a lean narrative without subplots, and one that veers dangerously close to ‘shaggy-dog’ territory?by fight number five, perplexity can set in. Thankfully, Scott’s nascent gift for mood and tone, plus a final heart-breaking coda, somehow elevate the entire movie to enigmatic heights.

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