Ridley Scott has directed a medieval tale with themes that are still relevant today. It is told in chapters, one each from the perspective of each of the three main characters. And the duel, of course, brings the three of them together.
It starts with Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges, a squire who does battle on behalf of France. He is a widower with no heir and barely makes ends meet on his estate. His friend, Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris, turns up to collect mon on behalf of his employer and their friendship sours. Jean meets, then marries, Jodie Comer’s Marguerite. Several years, a couple battles, and renewed friendship with Jacques leads to Marguerite getting raped by Jacques while Jean is away. Jean challenges Jacques to a duel. In his version, Jean is a decent man. A doting husband. A man hurt more than once by his friend.
In act two, Jacques Le Gris tells his side of the story. One where he works for Ben Affleck’s Pierre d’Alencon. Their partnership is full of sex and greed. In his version, Marguerite flirts with him. He believes himself in love with her, and that their intercourse was mostly consensual.
Act three brings us Marguerite’s story. From her perspective, Jean is petulant and vain. He is prone to tantrums when he feels slighted. Jacques, on the other hand, is good looking but untrustworthy. Her flirting is fake meant to prove a point to Jean. When Jean is away from home, Jacques turns up at the house and rapes her. There was no consent given. When she wants Jean to support her accusations, he does do begrudgingly only because he feels his own pride is at stake. He doesn’t even bother to tell her that in asking for the duel, a loss by her husband would mean being burned alive for bearing false witness before God.
In the climax, the duel is fought. it’s a gory affair that sees both Jean and Jacques pushed to the brink of death at the hands of each other’s sword. It is Jean who prevails, but just barely.
This film is a lot of things. A medieval tale about dueling friends turned enemies. A tale of differing perspectives and realities in which we make our own truths. A story that tries very hard to have a feminist protagonist even as the men take most of the screen time. Lastly, it is another Ridley Scott period piece that gives us an epic battle and female characters that deserve a little better.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what Ridley Scott does with the subject matter (except for the fact that we have to watch the rape twice from both Jacques and Marguerite’s perspectives). He truly wants Marguerite to be the hero. But, with the story told in 1385 France, a woman couldn’t accuse a man of rape. Only her husband could because she is only viewed as property. It shows how far we have come as a society, but also shows that we aren’t perfect yet.
The cinematography here is stellar. The interiors are dimly lit by candlelight and sparsely decorated. The exteriors are cold, forbidding winter landscapes. The duel and battle scenes are like that of Gladiator, fast and violently bloody.
It is Jodie Comer’s performance that really sells it. Both Affleck and Damon feel out of place in the time period, and neither fake a British accent well. Damon’s performance is often just lip acting while he pouts and jutts out his jaw through scenes. Adam Driver is there, handsome faced and fit, doing his overtly intense man bit like he usually does. And Affleck is blonde with a chin beard that isn’t flattering.
The Last Duel is good Ridley Scott, but not great. Had he really let Jodie Comer be the true star of the film, this film would be stellar. It is worth seeing, but know that it runs just shy of two and a half hours.