Paul Giamatti and Andre Braugher in 'Duets'

Andre Braugher Gave One of His Most Moving Performances in This Forgotten Movie

In my family, a movie that we talked about all the time is Duets, a little-seen movie from 2000. Does the film make sense? Absolutely not, but it is one of those weird movies we talked about a lot. Mainly because of Andre Braugher.

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When the news of Braugher’s passing reached my family, my older brother instantly proposed that we watch Duets over the holidays. There are other, much better movies that Braugher shined in, but the reason I connect Duets with Braugher is because the movie really would not work in any way, shape, or form without Braugher—because he’s that good in it.

In Duets, Braugher plays Reggie, a fugitive who is on the run. He becomes the unlikely ally of Todd (Paul Giamatti) and the two end up traveling around the country together entering into karaoke competitions—yes, that is a thing in this film, which also (spoiler alert) ends in a shootout with Braugher’s Reggie dying when the police finally catch up to him. It’s a wild ride.

What makes Duets so special, at least to my family, is everything that Braugher brought to Reggie. We came to this movie as fans of Huey Lewis and left obsessed with Andre Braugher. It’s why, when he took on the role of Raymond Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I was so excited. I would always reference the end of Duets and truly no one would know what I was talking about outside of my immediate family.

The scene in question that solidified our affection for Braugher is when he give his final karaoke performance and sings Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” acapella. This movie plays fast and loose with the idea of karaoke, but it is this moment that I have constantly thought about in connection to Braugher’s work because it is just so surprisingly good in the grand scheme of this off-the-rails film.

The talent Braugher had on screen

Duets is selling us the absurd. Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow are playing father and daughter and they sing Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin'” together. Arguably not a song a father and daughter should sing together. Still, Braugher sells “Free Bird” to the audience, and even though Arnold McCuller is singing on the track while Braugher is acting in the scene, and it made a lasting impact.

Once, in the security line at LAX heading to New York, I saw Braugher. He was in front of me, and I didn’t want to tell him that I love Brooklyn Nine-Nine like everyone else would have. Instead, I turned to him after we made it through and told him “Thank you for Duets.” He rightfully looked confused because who loves this movie. But it brought my family such joy over the years because of his performance and his dedication to selling “Free Bird” in the midst of such an off-the-walls premise. It shows how talented Braugher was as a performer, and it is a moment in his illustrious career that always stood out to me because he knew exactly how to make something work, even if everything else around him wasn’t.

(featured image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.