‘The Last Duel‘ doesn’t let you down, but the buildup to it does.
In filmmaker Ridley Scott‘s newest historical epic, “The Last Duel,” as the title suggests, does not disappoint, but the long buildup to it does. This fact-based version of Eric Jager’s novel is muddy, gory, and nasty, but overly drawn out in filtering 14th-century feudal standards through a contemporary prism. It’s a “Rashomon“-like narrative that recounts its storey from various viewpoints.
In addition to Scott
the picture was written and produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, whose most relevant credentials for these purposes are “Gladiator” (successfully) and “Kingdom of Heaven” (far less so). The longstanding collaborators collaborated on the screenplay with independent writer-director Nicole Holofcener, who worked on the part presented from the woman’s perspective, in an interesting division of labour.
That would be one of three separate episodes in a film that spans more than two hours and twelve minutes, leading up to the final sanctioned fight in France in 1386. The competition paired a knight, Jean de Carrouges (Damon), against Jacques Le Gris (the ever-present Adam Driver), who was seeking justice after Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (“Killing Eve’s”) accused her husband’s one-time companion in arms of raping her.
“I want him to account for what he has done,” Marguerite says when asked whether she wants to pursue a case that might result in bloodshed, adding, “I cannot remain quiet,” in a statement that resonates through the ages into the #MeToo era.
However, speaking up does not guarantee that Le Gris will be held responsible. Because Marguerite is regarded as his property, the duel’s outcome is meant to represent God’s will and the truth of the accusation, leaving Marguerite’s rights in the hands of her quiet husband.
What occurred, given the contradictory accounts? The apparent “Rashomon” similarities are explained by “The Last Duel,” which dices that into pieces symbolising “the truth” in the views of Carrouges, Le Gris, and Marguerite, which explains the subtle “Rashomon” parallels.
Poring over tiny details, in part because of this, eventually becomes a drag on the movie’s pace. Marguerite has the most intriguing memories, and Comer, who is making a good transition to big film roles with “Free Guy” this summer, stands out amid the mainly male-dominated ensemble.
Affleck also had a minor part as Count Pierre d’Alençon
a nobleman who finds a pleasant companion for his lecherous escapades in Le Gris but dislikes Carrouges due of his all-war, no-play attitude.
The film, which is shot in washed-out tones, faithfully recreates the time, and the violent final scene is worth seeing on a large screen (and probably again at home). The portrayal of the precipitating incident seems essential to the narrative, but that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant to witness.
Scott’s ability to take audiences into various places and eras hasn’t waned even at the age of 83. Even yet, the picture’s star power will be put to the test by a film that is as much a psychological character study as it is a swashbuckling epic, delving into mediaeval politics with discussions of taxation and the spilling of blood for ungrateful lords and lieges.
In many ways, the film seems like a throwback to an era when people eagerly went to cinemas to watch actors like Robert Taylor or Alan Ladd walk about in armour. In the era of streaming, persuading people to leave their homes for such food seems to be a fight “The Last Duel” will struggle to win.
‘The Last Duel‘ doesn’t disappoint, but the lengthy buildup to it does