TW: Rape, Spousal Abuse, Assault, and Gory Violence
At the end of last week, the GateCrashers were invited to an early screening of The Last Duel, Ridley Scott’s newest film. The Last Duel is headlined by Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, and Ben Affleck, with Damon and Affleck teaming up with Nicole Holofcener to write the screenplay. This film is essentially one woman’s story, so I’m pleased they decided to bring Nicole Holofcener in to add a level of authenticity to the script that I feel would have been lacking had Affleck and Damon tackled it alone.
I recall seeing the trailer months back and being very excited by it. The Last Duel is adapted via a book of the same name by Eric Jager, which was based on a true story. I am largely a fan of historical films, so this seemed like something I’d enjoy. At its’ heart, The Last Duel is about three people; Driver’s accused Jacques Le Gris, Damon’s egotistical Sir Jean de Carrouges, and Comer’s tormented but courageous Marguerite de Carrouges. The trailer essentially lays out the plot, which is a duel being fought between de Carrouges and Le Gris, after Marguerite accuses Jacques of raping her. Though the film is set in late 1300’s Normandy, the plot is well suited to today’s political climate of female rights and whether a woman is believed when she seeks justice after violation.
It’s taken me quite a few days to formulate this review and ruminate on my feelings about the film. As a whole, I enjoyed The Last Duel. It had something it was trying to say, and to an extent, it executed that. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it had some triumphs I greatly admired. Ridley Scott employs some unusual storytelling tactics, which may turn off some viewers, but I feel is necessary to really communicating the stories’ nuanced ideas of perspective and memory.
This film is Marguerite’s movie, though you don’t realize it until the final act. Ridley Scott succeeds in; what I assume he was hired to do: confuse a lot of mainstream men into thinking this was a gory sword-fighting film that they can take their significant other to because it’s based on women’s problems. Now maybe I’ve come to this conclusion because the world I inhabit has turned me a tad cynical of late. But I think Ridley Scott succeeds in this task, whether he set out with the intention or not. I think by the final act, someone who didn’t give a fig about the plight of women will begin to see the cracks in their view of the patriarchy. For anyone who is already well versed in picking out injustices brought on by white men with too much power, there will be a lot of groaning for you during this film as you watch the things Marguerite, and many of the other women, are subjected to.
Jodie Comer is an absolute triumph in this film. She is not playing one woman. She is playing three; a dutiful wife, an object of desire, and her true self – just a woman who is trying to live and survive in the world she was born into. In the most gut-wrenching moments of this film, her performance is equally hard to watch and arresting. Adam Driver and Matt Damon give fine performances with conviction and skill, especially in the titular last duel and during their verbal sparring throughout the film. Affleck adds some much-needed levity as Pierre d’Alençon, though it’s the type of levity that arises from a character jaunting about, oozing toxic masculinity, knowing no harm can come to them because they hold all the power.
The Last Duel suffers from a longish run-time and some questionable sometimes accents. It falls prey to some of the cinematic cliches of a post #MeToo world. But I feel strongly that there is more leaning in its favor than negative. The costume design by Janty Yates and production design by Arthur Max are exquisite, and cinematography by Dariusz Wolski delivered beauty and power in both the intimate scenes as well as the epic ones. Ridley Scott did a fine job directing, though the entire film my mind was plagued with thoughts over what it might have been had a woman been hired to direct it. While I liked the film, I can’t say I’ll watch The Last Duel for a second viewing. Some films are just too gritty and emotionally turbulent to sit through twice, but I’m glad I saw it.
The Last Duel is not recommended for people who can be triggered by spousal abuse, assault, rape, or gory violence.
The Last Duel was released in theaters nationwide on October 15, 2021.