For his third film as director, J.D. Dillard adapts the 2017 biography Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice by author Adam Makos. The film shortens the title to Devotion and introduces audiences to the comradeship between naval officers Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) during the Korean War.
Sundance Review : Dual
Director Riley Steams adds another enjoyable film to his filmography with his third feature Dual from RLJE Films. A woman named Sara (Karen Gillian) hears that she is terminally ill in the near future. To save her boyfriend Peter (Beulah Koale) and her mom (Maija Paunio) from the pain of losing her, she opts for a cloning procedure of herself and trains the clone to act like her.
However, when Sara makes a sudden and miraculous recovery, her attempts to have her clone decommissioned fail and leads to a court-mandated duel to the death. In this future society, humans cannot exist for longer than the time limit of their clones. To prepare for this dual, Sara enlists the help of combat specialist Trent (Aaron Paul) in hopes that she can win her life back.
Almost a month after seeing the magnificent Mahershala Ali led Swan Song, I wasn’t that keen on seeing another movie involving clones and terminal illness so soon. In spite of that, Steams has a trademark humor style that won me over in his last film, The Art of Self Defense. I was hoping for a quick laugh at most, so I hit play on Dual.
Steams opens the film with a dual involving Robert Michael (Theo James). The intentions and motives behind the duel aren’t clear to the audience; all we know is that Robert is the winner. From there we meet Sara, who is surviving in life but not really living. The moment we hear Sara speak, it’s clear that Gillian will deliver a dry performance. However, it works in the mystique of her character. During the early scenes with her boyfriend (featuring Koale taping into the attributes of a tool), we also see that Sara is a pushover.
Steams organically sets up Sara’s arc and wants the audience to sympathize with her heroine. For the most part, Steams succeeds, and Gillian is more than up to the challenge. I was fond of the scenes where Sara has to teach her replacement how to live her life. Thus, when we learn that Sara 2.0 is more liked by Peter and Sara’s mom, it works. We then see the layers from Sara come out as the original Sara begins to find her confidence in training and a budding friendship with Trent.
Aaron Paul is a hoot as Trent, and Steams makes a few surprising choices with his character. I wouldn’t mind a one-shot film or a sequel focusing on Trent and his training methods. Steams keep the momentum going in Dual as we race to the finish line, and the film layers mesh together quite nicely. I thought the film would go one way during the third act, but Steams takes it somewhere else entirely.
Steams seems to understand that Dual is a film you will like or loathe. The concept is quite interesting, and a small part of me yearns for a longer film as the idea could go numerous places, which brings up my one gripe. I wanted to know more about the character of Robert Michael (Theo James) and the motivation behind the clone’s desire to live. However, while the runtime is short, I recommend the film for Steams fans and those looking to engage in philosophical discussions.
Final Grade: B
Dual is currently without a confirmed released date. However, RLJE Films did acquire the film’s US distribution rights at Sundance.
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