Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck

Year: 2021

The Last Duel is the best drama of the year, and one of the greatest capturings of brutal history ever to be brought to screen.  More Gladiator and The King than Braveheart and Outlaw King perhaps, but that could simply be a matter of personal taste; just being named alongside any in that group is an honor in itself.  Ridley Scott knows his swordplay films, knows how to weave the action around the characters, knows when to add in subtleties the same as when to knock us over the head, and that may never be more evident than here, despite all his other successes.  The Last Duel is an ensnaring account of an awful event and its equally awful dual antagonists, but done in such a way that I was left spellbound by the telling, only wanting to watch more, know more, and invest more.

This is the true story of Marguerite de Carrouges, a noblewoman of the 1300s in France who had the audacity to accuse a man of rape, rather than stay silent like so many before her.  Told in three parts from three different perspectives, the tale unfolds and is layered so that case builds upon case, truth upon lie, forging a tale that would become a history to be discussed for hundreds of years.  Jean de Carrouges, a military man by trade, once had a friendship with Jacques Le Gris, his companion in arms, but that relationship soured as Le Gris gained influence with the local lord Pierre, and Carrouges became a court joke.  The feud culminated in the disputed accusation; Marguarite claimed to have been raped, Jean sued her attacker, but Jacques declared that the affair had been mutually desired.  When no court could settle the matter, an ancient tradition was restored; death by single combat, and let God prove the truth by declaring him the victor, with the liar instantly dead and eternally damned.

The first point I want to bring up, before actually reviewing the film, is the topic of rape broached by this story, because it was brought to my attention that perhaps many would be uncomfortable with that theme being central here, with it being a topic for our entertainment.  That is a valid point and a personal choice; do not see this movie if that is a trigger for you, rape is a central theme, and the assault it shows in a scene of shocking account.  Paired with the film also showing Le Gris’s perspective/lie, where he sees it as a pleasurable act, that theme could become even more harming for some to watch, so bear that solidly in mind.  Much like in Rob Roy, the accounting of the rape can be upsetting, especially when its legitimacy is brought into question, and I feel strongly that each audiences member should know what they are about to watch before they subject themselves to something they didn’t want to see.

With that said, and attempting to move to judging the film as a film, since I am a film critic after all, I found The Last Duel to be a phenomenal representation of the time period, an extremely brutal portrayal of even a wealthy life, a keen eye toward the horror but profitability of war, and a spectacular retelling of history for us all to learn from.  On top of that, it’s cinematically and thematically flawless, with style & tempo in every detail, with epic proportions and mundane minutiae combined in a way that you don’t often see.  Ridley is a genius, though one that teeters up & down, but this is definitely one of his highest moments, bringing us bloody warfare, desperate survival, libertine hedonism, and common society in a sweeping narrative that I never wanted to stop watching.  The plot is divided into three pieces, the perspectives of each of the main characters as events unfold, but staggered in such an intelligent way that the film never feels repetitive.  Damon, Driver, Comer; perfect casting choices for these roles, and an excellent job bringing these complex people back to life.  On the boundaries were Ben Affleck and Alex Lawther, lord and king, who brought such bold loathsomeness but quiet humor that you at once detested and were bedeviled by them, always stealing the show in the few scenes in which they appeared.  But the bulk of the praise must go to Ridley Scott, who crafted this tale from an adapted screenplay by Damon, Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener, and who breathed his own life into the true history, the people who lived it, and the time period that wrapped all in its dirty arms.  This is brilliant cinema brought up from the darkest depths, a behemoth with a weapon to wield, and a pure epic like few others.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


By ochippie

Writer, Critic, Dad Columbus, Ohio, USA Denver Broncos, St. Louis Cardinals Colorado Avalanche, Duke Blue Devils