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If you can envision “Let’s Be Cops” reconstituted as a noirish psychodrama, you may be adequately prepared for “Duke,” an uneven but arresting indie thriller about two siblings who are driven to heroic extremes by childhood traumas. Co-directed by twin brothers James and Anthony Gaudioso, who also appear in strikingly different supporting roles, the film sustains more than enough dramatic tension from scene to scene to keep a viewer intrigued, despite the sporadic fuzziness of motivation and plot specifics, though it faces long odds as it tries to distinguish itself among scads of similar small-budget efforts currently available on streaming platforms.
After a portentous prologue that hints at psychologically scarring childhood experiences at an institution referenced only as “The Home” — maybe an orphanage, maybe a reformatory — the narrative proper kicks in as Dare (Carmine Giovinazzo), a tightly wired undercover detective, and Roost (Michael Monks), a uniformed officer, are patrolling a West L.A. neighborhood in an unmarked car. But here’s the thing: Neither is really a cop. They’ve tricked themselves out with badges and other items to pose as protectors of the populace. And while Roost is too unstable to be consistently comfortable in his role, Dare projects all the Dirty Harry-style edginess necessary to fool even a real LAPD officer they pull over for a traffic stop.
Story - Roost - Uniform - Attention - Pastime
As the story progresses, Roost grudgingly hangs up his uniform and redirects his attention to his favorite pastime, watching old John Wayne movies on TV — mostly, but not exclusively, Westerns. (At one point, he varies his routine by viewing a scratchy 16mm print of “The High and the Mighty.”) But Dare continues to prowl the mean streets, managing to be tough enough to roust (and rob) petty criminals and other lowlifes while convincing more than a few folks who should know better...
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