The Last Duel is an epic medieval drama that once again highlights Ridley Scott’s talent. Based on the novel, it does begin to drag towards the middle act with its odd pacing. But an intense atmosphere is established early on and it’s constantly present. Engulfing audiences in this brutal tale about pride and truth that grows increasingly uncomfortable to watch at times. With powerful performances to match the historic backdrop, The Last Duel is one of Scott’s best films to date.
Premiering at this year’s Venice Film Festival, the film has garnered a lot of praise and deserves every bit of it. Scott starts by teasing a gruesome battle that lies ahead. What happens in between is a meticulously crafted journey told through three different perspectives. Brought to life masterfully through strong performances from Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer.
Set in the 1300s, The Last Duel follows Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer), a woman claiming to be raped by a friend of her husband, Jean de Carrouges (Damon). She has accused Jacques Le Gris (Driver), a squire that Jean challenges in return for his transgressions. Affleck and Damon, both collaborated with Nicole Holofcener on this compelling screenplay. A woman’s truth being ignored might have some viewers thinking there’s an agenda here, but the mistreatment of Marguerite highlights the struggles women had to endure during this era.
Comer displays breathtaking range in her role. She channels Marguerite’s mixed emotions so well that you can’t help but root for the character. With sexual assault being the film’s driving force, her character progression is fascinating to watch. The Last Duel may not flow as well for some viewers because of its structure, but it highlights when someone else’s perspective takes control.
Broken into three chapters, it offers in-depth examinations of this love triangle (Marguerite, Jean, and Jacques), allowing viewers to understand the emotions felt by those involved. Admittedly, Jacques is the most interesting character, Driver’s performance will pique your curiosity regarding Jacques’ actions. What’s even more striking is how the film highlights his actions being more of a crime against Jean and not his victim, Marguerite. His infatuation with her, which he believes to be love, grows increasingly disturbing from his perspective.
Capturing how drastically different life for women was in this era only adds to the sympathy you feel for Marguerite. Essentially, she has no say when it counts in regards to a crime she experienced. Her perspective is labeled as the truth when it becomes The Last Duel’s focus. Expectedly, her truth is mocked and ridiculed in favor of her being unsatisfied by her husband. Damon and Driver chew up the scenery with their domineering portrayals of Jean and Jacques. While both offer powerful performances, Comer outshines them all here and the constant closeups of her face draw attention to Marguerite’s conflicting emotions.
Moments of dialogue questioning the level of pleasure Marguerite receives from Jean only assist the idea of her committing adultery on purpose. of course, her perspective provides the most clarity on this lack of pleasure. The violence is in great supply, its gore should satisfy horror enthusiasts in attendance. Towards the middle, The Last Duel does grow tiresome with the same plot points being revisited numerous times. The strong performances keep you invested, but sooner or later the pending battle between Jean and Jacques will be the only interesting component.
Scott captures their battle brilliantly, capturing the animosity between the two until one of them has been killed. Keeping you on the edge of your seat while Jean trades strikes with Jacques. Unlike the film’s earlier battles, Jean and Jacques are contained for their grudge match. This establishes urgency with their battle and the reaction from spectators only raises the unease felt throughout. Harry Williams’ score amplifies the brutality unfolding between the two and embodies the hatred shared towards each other.
The Last Duel is a bone-chilling drama that might drag on longer than it should for some. However, each scene serves a purpose in resolving the film’s main conflict. Comer delivers one of her best performances ever and it’s difficult to not become invested in Marguerite. I can see the film being compared to Gladiator, and The Last Duel isn’t as strong but it is still a great addition to Scott’s resume.