Ridley Scott has made his fair share of epic historical dramas, be it Gladiator or Exodus: Gods and Kings and now he’s back with his latest film, an epic medieval battle based on the true events of the last legally sanctioned duel in France’s history between knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver).
The film opens in 1386 and we get our first, albeit brief, look at the titular duel. The film then jumps back to 1370 and we see the events leading up to the duel. We see these events 3 times, each from a different perspective. First comes Jean de Carrouges’ point of view, then Jacques Le Gris and finally from the perspective of Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer). We see the friendship between Le Gris and Carrouges over the years only for Carrouges to get back from a battle one day to learn that his wife Marguerite was raped by Le Gris which is what prompts the eponymous duel.
It bears a similar sort of style to Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film Rashomon in that it’s telling the same events only from a few different perspectives. Each chapter begins saying “The truth according to…” introducing us to who’s telling this chapter of the film. As a result of this, the film’s runtime is quite long, clocking in at 152 minutes. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be this long and need to be told in this way. Whilst the re-telling of events never reaches the point where it feels repetitive as we’re constantly seeing things in a new light and from a different character’s point of view, it could have been told differently.
For instance, the film could have been told entirely from Jodie Comer’s character’s perspective. In fact when it does get around to seeing her side of the story, the words “the truth” linger on the screen for a little bit longer when introducing her chapter in case there was any doubt in your mind that her telling of her own rape might not in fact be the truth. Whilst seeing all three different perspectives does add a bit more depth to the film and to the characters, it wasn’t wholly necessary.
That being said, the film does have many strengths. Firstly, the cast are all excellent with Damon, Comer and Driver all giving fantastic performances. They each shine in particular in their own segment of the film however, overall the trio are phenomenal and their performances will likely land the film a few nominations a little further down the line when we get into awards season. Ben Affleck’s character Count Pierre d’Alençon is surprisingly funny dropping f-bombs around and adds a bit of comic relief to an otherwise very sombre film. As far as the performances go, the cast shine but their hairstyles, not so much. Damon sports an interesting looking mullet whilst Affleck opts for the bleach blond hair and at times it is a little off-putting and distracting but no doubt true to the time period.
The highlight of the film is absolutely the battle scenes; Scott is a master of creating, visually interesting, gritty battle scenes. Throughout the film there are a few brief battles, and these, along with the final duel, are absolutely breath-taking. It’s a real relief when the duel ends because it means you can finally breathe again. The sounds of swords slashing and chainmail clinking, in conjunction with dark red blood spurts makes for thoroughly visceral battle sequences that demand your entire attention.
Whilst it wasn’t handled badly, when delving into Marguerite’s rape, some of it was a bit too on the nose and could have been dealt with a bit better. This is probably down to the fact that of the three writers, only one of them (Nicole Holofcener) is a woman, with the other two writers being Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. When you’re telling a film about a rape it certainly makes sense for a woman to have written the film’s script, not two men.
Ridley Scott has crafted an excellent medieval battle film with The Last Duel. It boasts a superb cast, all on top form and phenomenal battle scenes, fully engrossing you in medieval France.
The Last Duel is released in cinemas on October 15th.
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
STARS: Jodie Comer, Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Ben Affleck
RUNTIME: 152 minutes