“The Last Duel” stars Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, and Ben Affleck. Released on October 15, 2021, the film has two best friends engaging in a duel with one another.
The film was directed by Ridley Scott, who also directed films such as “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Gladiator”, and “The Martian”. It is based on the book of the same name by Eric Jager. Nowadays, we use communication to settle our differences, but back then, they had a much violent way to solve their problems. Ridley Scott is returning to the Oscar race this year with not one but two fact-based films to get audiences invested in historical events. This weekend, I’ll be taking a look at one that’s set years before technology was invented. So far, Scott has delivered some hits and misses recently, but there’s still no denying his ability to bring captivating tales to life with his direction and set designs. This latest drama appears to be no exception as it offered an all-star cast and a grim yet immersive perspective on medieval times. But are they enough to make the filmmaker a strong awards contender? Let’s find out.
The story is set in 1380s France, and it centers on a squire named Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and his beloved wife Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer). When Marguerite claims that she’s been raped by her husband’s friend Jacques Le Gris (Driver), Jean challenges Jacques to trial by combat, which would determine the fate of Marguerite and her husband. The film is based on real-life events that took place around 700 years ago, where France held the last legally sanctioned duel in the country’s history. It also explored the three main characters’ roles in the events leading up to the accusation and the trial. This piece of history was quite interesting in my eyes. It is not just because of the country’s final duel, but also because it reflects on today’s culture. The film showed that the whole “Me Too” movement happened way before it was even a thing. The essential part to remember is that it takes place during a time where women were often treated as objects to give men pleasure. While the film itself came close to being as impactful as its disturbing subject matter, “The Last Duel” is nonetheless another worthy piece of historical cinema gold by Ridley Scott. The film shines in being intriguingly dramatic, brutally violent, and thoughtfully challenging regarding the cast, direction, and production values. It only had a few scenes that either dragged or felt underwhelming, especially when taking its two-and-a-half-hour runtime into account. I also would’ve liked to see more of how Marguerite’s accusations impact women’s roles in the 1300s. That would have made the social commentary more exciting and emotional. Despite those flaws, the film is, without a doubt, Ridley Scott at his finest. The most interesting part of “The Last Duel” was its narrative, which was divided into three chapters. It explored the events leading up to the duel through the eyes of Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite. This narrative choice may sound repetitive at first, but you might be surprised to see that it wasn’t. It retold the same story three times through different perspectives. However, those perspectives happened to represent the story more differently than others, primarily the rape scene from the viewpoint of Jacques and Marguerite. It gives off that “he said, she said” vibe that challenges how we see these characters and their actions. If that’s the case, then I thought Ridley Scott and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon did a superb job handling this approach with care and intellect. The main cast did absolute wonders in gracing the screen with ease. Damon and Driver were both excellent in their roles as Jean and Jacques, respectively, while Jodie Comer delivered a performance that’s subtly riveting as Marguerite. In my opinion, Ben Affleck’s performance as Count Pierre d’Alencon was quite unusual compared to his recent dramatic roles. He can be a bit giddy at times, but thankfully, it wasn’t enough to negatively alter the film’s dramatic tone. Another element that worked in the movie was the production values. Like Scott’s other historical films like “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven”, “The Last Duel” envisions its historical period with its bleak yet gorgeous cinematography and a sense of authenticity. From the set designs to the costumes, the film continues the filmmaker’s strength in bringing natural history to life on screen. I also want to point out that the film can be disturbing for some viewers, but not to the point where it becomes unwatchable. The rape scene (which they showed twice) was quite uncomfortable, and the violence was undoubtedly brutal, especially the duel sequence at the end of the film. By the way, that sequence was highly engaging and well worth the wait regarding Scott’s direction and the brutality.
Overall, Ridley Scott has crafted another absorbing and thoughtful fact-based drama in the form of “The Last Duel”. It came very close to squeezing into my top ten list of 2021 films. Nonetheless, it’s a well-acted and beautifully grim depiction of misogyny that refuses to be silent. The actors were great in their roles, the storytelling was handled well by Scott, and the production values were incredibly authentic. It’s a successful start for the director this year, and I hope he can repeat that success with next month’s “House of Gucci”.