“Duke” Short Film Review – A beautifully crafted, heart-warming drama that makes a point of showing us the harsh reality of raising an autistic child.
Based on the compelling true story of a family’s discovery that their non-verbal autistic child can communicate with them via typing,Duke is, in the end, a hopeful tale. To reach that uplifting high of an ending, though, you first have to witness the lows. The Peters family almost reach breaking point as they try to live a normal family life while struggling to deal with Duke’s frequent violent outbursts.
According to the film’s website, director Thiago Dadalt spent over a year observing Duke and his family, and his close connection to the film’s subject matter is reflected in his thoughtful direction. Dadalt temporarily transports his viewers into Duke’s world with his use of sound, and the tranquillity of time spent at the beach perfectly contrasts the chaos at home.
Robert Solomon’s performance as Duke is fantastic, providing a believable portrayal of a serious disability and all of the subtleties that come with it. His ability to communicate Duke’s thoughts and feelings without words is an impressive feat, and he allows Duke’s personality to shine through. Solomon’s performance likely owes a lot to Dadalt’s direction, having spent such a long time observing Duke’s behaviours.
The real standout performance is that of Piercey Dalton as Duke’s mother, Brenda Peters. Brenda is simultaneously incredibly strong and overwhelmed, full of love and wracked with despair as she desperately tries to hold her family together. Dalton manages to find the balance between emotionally charged drama and convincing realism, allowing viewers to latch onto Brenda Peters right from the start and root for her throughout.
The only major flaw in the film is that the supporting cast are hit and miss, with the only really believable characters being Duke and Brenda. However, I would say that the craftsmanship of this film and the strength of the leads allows us to enjoy Duke for what it is: a feel-good short film, meticulously and lovingly made by a cast and crew who were determined to do justice to Duke’s story.