Should the revisionist Western “The Duel” be read as an anti-Trump screed?
Unintentionally, maybe. The film surely was in the works long before the Donald announced his intention of becoming our next president.
But the themes it pursues — a willful strongman, race hatred (especially against Mexicans), an insular world view — sure make it seem like a contemporary political commentary.
As it turns out, how “The Duel” reflects current political currents is its strongest feature.
As a horse opera, Kieran Darcy-Smith’s drama is pretentious, overwritten, painfully unsubtle and thoroughly ridiculous.
Texas Ranger David Kingston (Liam Hemsworth) is given an undercover assignment. An alarming number of dead bodies — most of them Mexicans — have been washing downstream from a mysterious and insular border town.
The burg is presided over by The Preacher (Woody Harrelson), a charismatic snake handler and faith healer who totally controls the lives of his congregants.
Buff, bald and over the top, Harrelson might actually be auditioning for the role of Judge Holden in an upcoming film version of Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian.”
Oh, and did I mention that Ranger David’s own pappy was slain by The Preacher many years ago in a knife duel?
In perhaps the most improbable plot twist of Matt Cook’s screenplay, David’s wife Marisol (Alice Braga) insists on accompanying him on this secret mission. They’ll pose as a married couple just passing through.
But of course it’s not that simple. Marisol falls for The Preacher’s dramatic line of mumbo jumbo; meanwhile David discovers that the townsfolk are running a “big game preserve” in which the hunted animals are captive Mexicans.
Nobody gets out of this one unscathed. Even Emory Cohen, so terrific as Saoirse Ronan’s Italian-American paramour in “Brookyln,” is ridiculous as the Preacher’s sniveling, sadistic offspring.