REVIEW: The Last Duel (2021)

Jodie Comer as Marguerite in Ridley Scott’s THE LAST DUEL — PHOTO: 20th Century Studios.

Directed by Ridley Scott — Screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck & Matt Damon.

Based on the Eric Jager non-fiction book of the same name, The Last Duel tells the true story of one of the last judicial duels in France in 1386, when Jacques Le Gris (played by Adam Driver) and Sir Jean de Carrouges (played by Matt Damon) went head-to-head in a trial by combat to decide whether or not Le Gris was guilty of raping de Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite (played by Jodie Comer). However, all three of their lives were on the line. Because their rules stated that if her husband were to lose the duel (and his life in the process), then the courts would regard Marguerite as a false accuser and sentence her to death as a result of his loss.

Sir Ridley Scott knows very well how to make these types of historical epics as his oeuvre includes films such as Kingdom of Heaven and the unforgettable Gladiator. The Last Duel fits right in with the rest of his filmography as it has an attention to detail and includes a brutal depiction of action. But the filmmakers behind the film have greater aspirations than to just make an epic with great battles. Thanks to a strong script from Nicole Holofcener and the Good Will Hunting-duo (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), The Last Duel also explores misogyny, subjective perspectives, and the way these men and women chose to read things differently. With the strong script as well as Scott’s ability and his understanding of epic filmmaking this film really shines.

To achieve all of this, the film makes use of a classic Rashomon-style story structure, which means that the film is divided into these different chapters that provide us with subjective accounts of, or perspectives on, the same incidents. The film starts by telling us the story from Jean de Carrouges’ perspective and ends with his wife’s, with Jacques Le Gris’ perspective dividing them. One possible drawback of this structure is obviously that the story can become repetitive, and I think there is a chance that some people will think that especially because of the excessive 153-minute runtime.

It may be an overwhelming rewatch in the future, but I thought that the ways in which the various perspectives contradicted each other made this a rich and fascinating film, as each perspective reveals a lot about the individual complex characters, like ingrained systemic misogyny, narcissism, and possessiveness. In spite of the structure (and the details that change from perspective to perspective), Scott’s film doesn’t keep us in the dark as to whether or not anything happened. The film makes it abundantly clear what the actual truth is.

What is also fascinating about the structure is that the actors are given opportunities to play their characters differently in each perspective. Both Damon and Driver’s characters are thus revealed to be quite delusional in their own ways. Adam Driver delivers a great multi-faceted performance. However, Jodie Comer is the shining star here, and her character’s perspective, in which she is given the opportunity to really speak up, is also quite frankly the best. While I do think it is true that Damon and Affleck stand out like sore thumbs in this Medieval period epic, I do want to highlight Affleck’s performance especially because he clearly had a lot of fun with, and is at times quite amusing in, his role as Count Pierre d’Alençon, who is used to getting what he wants.

It is a shame that Sir Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel found little-to-no success at the box office, because what we have here is a truly great studio film. It is so good in large part thanks to these multi-faceted performances, its well-written narrative, and its gripping, grimy, and brutal Medieval action sequences. It won’t become the classic that Gladiator was, but it is one of Scott’s best films in the last decade.

8.7 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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