Anton Chekhov's The Duel

Anton Chekhov's The Duel

On DVD: 
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Running Time: 
95 minutes

 The Duel feels like a movie that has a running inside joke with itself, and the point of watching is for the viewer to get inside of it, too. Only there's no laughing here: it's all just high cheekbones and unspoken misery. It's a bad sign when a viewer spends more time trying to figure out the exact lipstick used on the lead actress than actually paying attention to the movie itself.

Laevsky just loves wallowing in his own misery and bringing everyone else down with him, including his married mistress, Nadya. When his former-friend-turned-frenemy Von Koren calls him out for trying to be a morally-upstanding scoundrel, a duel arises. Andrew Scott's portrayal of stick-in-the-mud Laevsky is haunting from beginning to end. Scott does an outstanding job of making Laevsky disheveled, gaunt, and just downright unsettling to watch as he slowly loses his grasp, at one point being carried out of a party while having a spell of lunacy. It takes a special, subtle touch to convincingly play a man who tries to leave his lover on the sly, but doesn't want to hurt her feelings by telling her that her husband died, all while going absolutely crazy. Try as Von Koren may to prove that Darwin doesn't want men like Laevsky alive, Scott shows just enough of Laevsky's heart for the viewer to know that there's a glimmer of good intention behind his omission.

As for the fact that this film is a New York Times Critics' Pick, it doesn't surprise me. The Duel is exactly the kind of skeletal, esoteric storytelling that the Times loves to praise, whether or not it actually holds up as a well-told story. Maybe it's not the film I don't like, but rather the story itself. Sorry, Anton Chekhov. Sorry, screenwriters. Sorry, New York Times. But to whoever cast Andrew Scott, bravo. I hope I see more of him in the future.

Review by Patty Miranda