the last duel
director: ridley scott (gladiator, the martian)
starring: matt damon, adam driver, jodie comer, and ben affleck
REVIEWER: nick tonkin
A boy growing up on Long Island seeks out father figures among the patrons at his uncle's bar.
The Last Duel was directed by the legendary Ridley Scott and written by stars Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and co-written by Nicole Holofcener, Academy Award nominee for 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? Joining Damon as leads are Jodie Comer and Adam Driver, and joining Affleck as supporting actors are a wonderful array of character and stage actors such as New Zealand’s own Marton Csokas, Željko Ivanek, Harriet Walter and Nathaniel Parker.
With such talent on board, a reported $100 million dollar budget and the backing of Disney’s 20th Century Studios, The Last Duel had every indication of being a home run. However, a protracted production caused by the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, and a rocky release again due to the persistence of the Pandemic through late 2020 and early this year, the film was delayed, like so many others, for release in late 2021. Various outlets have already labelled the film a bomb overseas, with it reportedly making only a third of its budget back at the box office.
This really is a disheartening outcome, as The Last Duel is an engrossing and compelling film made with skill and care. It seems even the film’s star power couldn’t overcome the effects of the pandemic on international moviegoer’s behaviours, likely compounded also by the less than cheery subject matter of the film.
The Last Duel is an examination of a lurid medieval historical event, one that allows for the exploration of the perspective of each of the three lead characters through an interesting take on the three-act narrative structure. Each act is told from one of the three lead character’s perspectives. The film explores the events in the lives of Damon’s Jean de Carrouges, Comer’s Marguerite de Carrouges and Driver’s Jacques le Gris leading up to legal dispute and the subsequent judicial duel between the two men following Marguerite’s accusation of rape towards Jacques.
As The Last Duel recounts the perspective of each of the leads over the same events, it allows the audience to experience what each of the characters perceived in the moment, how they interpreted certain behaviours and actions of others. Even to the extent that the absence or inclusion of certain interactions from one telling of perspective to another indicates how the respective perspective teller interpreted the importance of the interaction.
One such scene of an exchange between Marguerite and Jacques around a banquet table at a party was a key moment for Jacques, informing his interpretation of a burgeoning attraction between himself and Marguerite. From Marguerite’s point of view, she was focussed on navigating through the minefield of high society, as this was the moment of her and her husband Jean’s reintroduction to society following a period of ostracisation due to Jean’s poor political maneuvers in the past.
The film certainly has something to say about the way women were treated in this period of medieval history, though some have argued that the film isn’t as effective in its critique as it might think it is. This may well be the case, as the film tends to let events speak for themselves and may be, to an extent, also due to how the film presents the restricted ability that women would have had to speak, defend and express themselves in this medieval society.
The Last Duel is an accomplished and engrossing film, one that certainly exhibits the real talent of the filmmakers and actors involved.