The Duel is a pretty decent western that does not deserve the critical annihilation it has received. A 22% Rotten Tomatoes score does not do this film justice. Is it perfect? Not at all. But it's watchable and features a subtle but creepy performance from Woody Harrelson as a 19th century Jim Jones-esque religious leader. Plus, Liam Hemsworth delivers as a vengeful Texas Ranger. The story is original and intriguing, the latter of which is rare for westerns these days. This film has elements of psychological religious thrillers like Midsommar and Colonia, but with the modern-day western edge of 3:10 to Yuma.
Hemsworth plays David Kingston, a Texas Ranger who is sent to a remote mountain town to investigate the disappearance of Mexican immigrants, one of which is related to a prominent Mexican general. David heads up to the town, which is run by a religious leader named Abraham Brant (Harrelson), the same man who killed David's father in a duel decades earlier. David brings his wife Marisol (Braga) as cover, but Marisol soon becomes entranced by Abraham's message. David finds himself alone and his cover blown, and he and Abraham engage in a high-octane duel to the death in the desert. There's rarely a dull moment, and the characters are so interesting and intense that you get lost in their stories.
The Duel is a highly underrated western thriller that got absolutely zero attention. It's a good watch if this is your cup of tea, and admittedly westerns aren't for everyone. But the best thing about The Duel is that it's not just a western. It's a palpable psychological thriller that focuses on the power and danger of religious cults, especially in the 1860's. Snake oil was a powerful aphrodisiac to some people, and it was really easy to sell it.