Ridley Scott’s return to historical epics is not the usual sword-wielding affair. Although the film contains all the trademarks of his films, such as violent sword fights, bloody war battles, and elaborate historical set pieces, with The Last Duel, Scott has made a story that is surprisingly small in focus.
Unlike Maximus in Gladiator, the men in The Last Duel are extremely problematic. And while a portion of the audience is going to react to the film’s #MeToo narrative divisively, the situation depicted in Scott’s new film is nonetheless potent and real.
Here is our The Last Duel review and whether it’s worth seeing in theaters.
The Last Duel review
Based on a book by Eric Jager, and adapted into a script by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon, the film recounts a vicious real-life duel in 1386 medieval France that resulted from an accusation of sexual assault.
The structure of the screenplay falls very closely alongside Showtime’s series The Affair, where we see lengthy recounts of the same story but from multiple perspectives, all leading up to the duel.
The first perspective from Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), then Jacques Le Gris side of the story, and then finally Marguerite de Carrouges’s (Jodie Comer) viewpoint of the events before the men fight to the death. And with each viewpoint, small details change in the events foretold.
And just like The Affair, the script relies on the viewer to find the truth somewhere in the middle of the different retellings.
The approach of rewatching the same account from multiple views may not be a fresh one, but let’s be clear, this is a fantastic screenplay. With each switch, new layers are added, small character flaws are revealed — even in their unreliable narrative mechanics, and stakes increase.
For example, Jean de Carrouges’s story tries to withhold all of his insecurities but somehow, the way he sees the events still paints him as having a delicate, unsatisfied ego. It’s small flourishes that reveal deeper motivations as we get the sense an unreliable narrator is withholding things.
The performances are riveting all around. Matt Damon gives one of his best in years as a deeply insecure knight.
There has been a lot of controversy about Ben Affleck as a blonde but once it is put in context, the choice makes complete sense. His depiction of Pierre d’Alençon is flashy, arrogant, and borderline obnoxious– kind of like his bright blonde hair and goatee.
It’s rare to feel disgusted by a character Affleck portrays when he usually picks likable leading roles. But he knocks it completely out of the park.
Adam Driver needs zero explanation at this point in his career. As an actor, he has been great in pretty much everything since landing Star Wars.
But at the center of the story is Jodie Comer’s role of Marguerite which she plays outstandingly as a wife tormented by the medieval patriarchy. As an actress, Comer is really showing so much versatility. In the past few years, we have seen her unpredictable psychotic side in Killing Eve, her lovable charming geek sensibilities in Free Guy, and to see her again, switch things up as a vulnerable wife in a Ridley Scott film is truly impressive.
The film’s weighty subject matter lies mostly on Comer’s shoulders and she once again delivers with every weapon at her acting disposal.
Then there is that underlying subject matter that is so very poignant. The Last Duel will obviously be greeted by some unwarranted negativity from a toxic portion of the internet. This is obviously to be expected considering some of the online commentaries during the #MeToo movement and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
But the message here is not to simply believe all allegations but lies more in the secondary issue of why systemically coming forward is terrifying for so many. Whether Marguerite is telling the truth or not makes no difference because either way, she is seen as a pawn in the eyes of the court and her husband. And given the historical consequences of the 1300 time period, saying anything at all gives her nothing but consequences. And if her husband loses the duel, she is faced with unimaginable horror.
As the film weaves all three viewpoints together towards the final act, the stakes are huge and the fear is real. It’s one of the most nail-biting finales of a film in a long time. And easily one of the best Ridley Scott films in years.
The Last Duel: Should you watch in theaters?
The Last Duel is a masterfully scripted and directed film about the horrors that sexual assault victims face coming forward. It is riddled with outstanding performances from everyone involved, including a blonde Ben Affleck. It all builds to an aggressive conclusion with insanely tense stakes.
Ridley Scott at age 83 is showing no signs of losing grip with telling a character-driven historical epic and we hope he has plenty more in store.
The Last Duel is now in theaters.