The western has been a staple of film from the earliest days of cinema. Cowboys, Indians, the good guys with white hats, and the bad guys in black – it’s all a familiar part of the movie landscape. However, sometimes the story told is more than what one might expect. From the gritty violence of Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH to Clint Eastwood’s dark visions in UNFORGIVEN, the western has matured beyond simple gunfights and easy on the cerebellum morality plays. Writer Michael Worth’s and director Steven R. Monroe’s film DUAL is a film that definitely takes the western outside of its traditional box.
Worth, in addition to writing the feature, stars as Luke Twain, a drifter who wanders into a small town to find all of the inhabitants brutally murdered. Rather than ignoring the gruesome scene, Twain remains in the town trying to piece together what happened and why. During his quest for answers, Twain finds a survivor, Ember (Karen Kim), and he also discovers a mysterious lone gunman (Tim Thomerson) who appears like the angel of death out of nowhere. While the gunman’s motivation isn’t clear, he wants Ember and he will take her any way he can.
On the surface, DUAL seems like a straightforward story with the good guy, the bad guy and the damsel in distress. However, Worth’s story is more complex than that. Twain is plagued by visions of his own violent past when he saw his mother meet a horrible fate at the hands of his abusive father. His memories also contain something more…clues about the gunman and his intentions.
Director Steven R. Monroe shows a keen eye for visual storytelling by his use of strong color saturation, red in particular, to create a surreal feel to the setting and to emphasize the isolation and desperation that grows within Worth’s character. While the supporting cast, when they are present, is strong, the film is clearly about one character: Twain, and it is Worth’s performance that really shines in the film.
At times, the elements that make DUAL unique also work against it, as some scenes are dark and difficult to follow visually. Also, after the film reaches its climax, it doubles back on itself to explain some parts of the complex plot. This bit of explanation, while providing some empathy for the character and his ultimate fate, still feels unnecessary at the point it is presented and may have been better woven into the story earlier. However, DUAL is a powerful film and its creative cinematography, unique story and strong cast, make it well worth watching. So if you’re in the mood for a straight line white hat/black hat western, go watch a Gene Autry movie. If you’re looking for an intelligent and complex film that explores the human mind and how a man’s past can turn the wheels of his future, then check out DUAL. It’s a western more for fans of an Alfred Hitchcock movie than a Louis L’Amour novel, but it can be appreciated by both.