Duel At The Mound

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Duel At The Mound
"An effective examination of contemporary Western society's skewed relationship with pleasure."

The baseball movie is something of a mystery on this side of the pond, despite its obvious importance in American culture. It's a curious thing to watch people getting so excited about a sport with which most of us have no emotional connection, but a well made film can, of course, persuade its viewers to engage with pretty much anything. By stepping away from talented heroes facing doubts and plucky school teams overcoming the odds, choosing instead to tell a story about two frustrated middle aged men, Mills makes a good effort in this direction. The game may still be a little oversold, but the human stories provide a route in - we care about what happens because we care about them.

Mel (Jonathan Medina) is trying to leave his past as a semi-professional player behind him and carve out a grown-up career as a teacher, but his heart isn't really in it. Walt (Michael Hanelin) has a similar past but is trying to forget about the game after being told that it's the reason why his relationship with his daughter has broken down. Yet neither of the two can forget the other or the duel that they have going on. A minor character comments that she doesn't like the game because of its relative lack of structure; because it can keep on going for hours. Their game has been going on for years, becoming a mutual obsession and, increasingly, a source of guilt; the friendship it might once have represented has morphed into something destructive.

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In recent years a number of American indies have explored the damage done by the recession, the social landscape bereft of hope that it has left in many places. Duel At The Mound, though less consciously focused on the subject, is one of the more effective. Both leads are effective in conveying resignation, depression, alleviated only by the thing they are trying to deny themselves. It's an effective examination of contemporary Western society's skewed relationship with pleasure, where the very fact that baseball is fun convinces them it shouldn't matter. As one of Mel's students argues, sports history isn't real history.

Though it's a slow burner, this is narratively stronger than Mills' previous work and suggests a filmmaker who is beginning to find his voice. Though there's not very much actual baseball footage, it's very effectively shot and the switch in styles makes an effective contrast with the bleak everyday scenes. The ending strikes a good balance in suggesting something transformative has happened to the characters without taking us out of the realm of realism. It's a celebration of sport as something that matters in day to day life, far beyond the glare of the spotlight, and we can all relate to that.

Reviewed on: 24 Jan 2015
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Baseball drama.

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