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The Last Duel (2021) – Review: Ridley Scott Has Crafted Another Daring and Exciting Epic

October 11, 2021

Quick Thoughts – Grade – A – Ridley Scott has crafted another daring and narratively interesting film that will hopefully be appreciated come awards time. The adaptation of the 2004 book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France, is a thrilling piece of storytelling that covers the leadup to the infamous 1386 duel from the eyes of three separate characters, who all see what transpires in different ways. 

What’s beautiful about The Last Duel is that it’s a 152-minute big budget epic that’s aimed towards adults looking for a narratively rich film that features sword fights, court cases, and Matt Damon rocking a beautiful mullett. The screenplay by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener is inspired because it asks for the audience to pay attention, as the narrative shifts from the three central characters played by Matt Damon, Jodie Comer, and Adam Driver. Damon and Affleck wrote the male perspective, while Holofcener wrote the female perspective, and combined, their script is wickedly funny, and thoughtful.

What makes the movie so much better is knowing it’s based on a true story, and that the duel that took place between Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), is the last officially recognized duel in French history. Normally, a duel to the death is wild enough, but this one had the caveat that if Sir Jean was killed, his wife Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) would have been burnt at the stake, because it would mean her allegations that caused the duel were false. Basically, If Le Gris wins, god willed it, which means he’s innocent and did not rape Marguerite. The only reason Sir Jean is fighting this fight is because wants to protect his reputation (not avenge his wife), and in the 1300s, sexual assault was not a crime against a woman, but a property crime against her husband. Thus, the attacked woman couldn’t do anything, and it was up to her husband to take the other man to court. 

This is where the three chapters come into play. Each of the characters have their own section of the film, where we see the story through their eyes. The first chapter involves Sir Jean de Carrouges, a human bulldog, who when entering a fight, says “This is what I do.” He’s almost impossible to kill, he annoys many around him, and his bullish ways have seen him fall out of favor with Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck – give him an Oscar nom), who much prefers Jacques Le Gris, whose charming demeanor and intelligence make him fun to be around. After going broke due to bad business decisions, and not enough booksmarts, Sir Jean, who is a widow, marries the charming Marguerite, whose father is a traitor to the throne, and needed a guy like Sir Jean to make his family somewhat respectable again. Things take a horrible turn when Marguerite is sexually assaulted by Le Gris, while Sir Jean is collecting money, and isn’t at his castle. This is where the movie rewinds, as we see the same situation played out two more times, but in the eyes of Le Gris and Marguerite. It all leads to an insane brawl that features Matt Damon and Adam Driver showcasing their physicality as they beat the heck out of each other. 

The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (The Martian, News of the World, Prometheus), is wonderful, as it captures the grime and grit of the battles, and subtly shifts when each character gets their chapter. What’s neat is that the fights and battles remind viewers of the skirmishes in Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (both directed by Scott), which feature beautiful violence and a massive scope. Since it’s a Ridley Scott film, the costume design by Janty Yates (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood), and production design by Arhur Max (Gladiator, The Martian, Kingdom of Heaven) are excellent, and it’s no wonder why Scott keeps the same crew for his films, and they must speak a shorthand, and are able to work efficiently and quickly. 

It’s nice seeing Damon play such a violent bulldog, who somehow, after all three chapters, comes across as the most moral (this isn’t saying much, he does some horrible things, and is totally self-absorbed) of the characters. His physicality is 100% believable, and it’s easy to believe he’d survive countless wars and battles. As always, if you want a charming villain, it doesn’t get any better than Adam Driver, who really leans into his large frame, and can bounce between likable, sad, desperate, charming and horrible in about three seconds. The MVPs are Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck, who both excel at their roles, and seem to understand exactly what is needed of them. Comer has to put in three different performances, as she’s seen through the eyes of two men, then is able to tell her story, and it’s a highlight of the film. Also, it would be great to see Affleck be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar because every time he’s on screen, the movie is better. 

Final thoughts: Watch it in theaters. It’s daring, fun and features a beautiful final fight.

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