May 2, 2023
Romi Jay, Kasio Collins, Kyle Acosta, J. Adam Young
Not to be confused with the charming 2020 British comedy drama starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren about an elderly gentleman in the sixties who steals/borrows a painting by Goya from the National Gallery just to make some point about not paying his TV license, The Duke by writer/director/producer/star Kyle Acosta is a film about something else entirely. Supposedly.
It's not easy to tell what Acosta's film is actually about though, as some of the basic markers, even for a low budget, amateur, indie film, just aren't there. A decent audio track, for example, you would think would be one of the basic things to get right, so that your dialogue can be heard, story can be exposed, characterisation can be expanded upon and the audience actually taken along for the ride whilst knowing just what the actual heck is going on. Not so in The Duke.
Right from the off, in one of the most ridiculously constructed opening scenes in film history, the conversation between the characters can hardly be heard. Two bad boys enter a bar, saying something about who knows what, and they harass the bartender into giving them drinks even after last orders. Then a female bartender turns up and tries to get the bad boys out of the way, for which she ends up getting punched in the stomach and apparently raped out in the parking lot, all the while the male bartender does nothing about it, not even calling the cops.
Suddenly an old man turns up, in a wide brim hat and trenchcoat, followed by an ugly little pug – The Duke (Acosta). We don't get to see his face but we know he must be important because he gets his own audio track which, as opposed to the others', we can hear because he has clearly recorded his lines in a recording booth, getting his mouth as close to the microphone as he can to breathe the words out in a low, raspy voice. Naturally, the old man saves the day and makes the bad boys pay but that's not all. He has other motivations for being there that night and he's not letting go of one bad boy in particular until he gets what he wants – which could be anything at this point as the audio stops us from understanding at least half of what is going on on screen.
Things don't get any better as the film progresses, when after a scene involving the bad boy's father (Young) who apparently has history with The Duke (although God knows what), we switch to Eli (Jay) who looks like he's a security guard at a casino in Las Vegas. There then comes a scene involving a woman holding a knife to some guy's knackers in the ladies' restroom which is impossible to determine why it's there, as yet again the dialogue can't be heard, but also because it's a preposterously stupid scene with no lead in or follow up to give it context. We slowly get led in to Eli's life, again through an endless series of pointless scenes with conversation that can't be heard, and we watch him (we can at least do that) get embroiled in The Duke's affairs.
I guess that The Duke is supposed to be a gritty crime drama with its hard men characters, over marginalised and hyper sexualised female characterisation, Las Vegas underworld and desert locations, and the odd chase/fight scene or gunplay. It's only a guess though as most of the story doesn't come across in the visuals, which to be honest seem random at best, and the rest of what might actually be there is lost in the dialogue that can't be heard.
In the end The Duke is just unwatchable. The film-maker(s) haven't done enough to make sure that their feature is suitable for public consumption and therefore it can't hope to be watched or understood by any audience. The question is really, would the film have been any better or actually made any sense if the audio was of any use? And the answer is probably, No. The scenes we witness are poor and badly constructed and the camerawork is only serviceable in places while at other times being downright terrible with the camera being put into the wrong positions. There's not a lot to recommend The Duke, it's not a well made or well thought out film, so it's probably best to make it one to avoid.