Ridley Scott's medieval trial drama features a stacked cast, and tells the story of France's last legal duel.
In addition to iconic science fiction works, master director Ridley Scott has also made a name for himself in his historical portrayals, and with The Last Duel he marks his return to the muddy, bloody Middle Ages that he has so well portrayed before. The film is based on the true story of two best friends who fight to the death to restore their names. The honourable knight Jean De Carrouges (Matt Damon) challenges Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) after his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) claims that Le Gris raped her, leading to France's last legal duel.
For those who like Scott's historical depictions, this feels familiar once you are introduced to the grey blood-spraying battles, but the story does not turn out to be the most honest when several details are suddenly erased to paint different variants of the same story. Instead, the film takes the step further and problematises the male lead roles in particular. After a tragic, exposure-heavy beginning, the story begins in the form of a trial from three different perspectives: De Carrouges, Le Gris, and Marguerite herself. The truth about the rape thus varies thanks to the unreliable narrators, where the small differences become directly decisive in the search for the truth. Glances become cooler, kisses become more intense and in some cases some of the narrators skip scenes when it does not suit them, as if the whole thing has been repressed in order not to rip apart their world views. This is what makes The Last Duel stand out from the crowd and make it more than just an ordinary revenge story about obvious heroes and villains.
Matt Damon convinces as an unfortunate knight who sees himself as the unfairly treated hero in his own saga, while Driver is absolutely brilliant in the role of a man who has a hard time maintaining his loyalty to his beloved friend when politics comes between them. Ben Affleck is also fantastically disgusting as Pierre, an arrogant count who does not directly seek forgiveness for his sins and carnal desires. However, it is Comer who steals the show once we get to see the events from her eyes and it soon becomes clear that her perspective will be the decisive one once the duel ends. Given the oppressed role of women throughout history, it is a very fitting story to tell in today's climate, which revolves around the culture of silence, and Comer once again delivers striking emotional scenes.
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The Last Duel is an engaging and elusive story that breaks down the male hero character and which later leads to a bittersweet final battle that really sums up the medieval thinking. The viewer witnesses the uncomfortable truth in a film that allows a little more complexity under its heavy armour. Although much of the dialogue is weighed down by exposition and the first hour is clumsy, it is at the same time difficult to resist Scott's lavish history epic, which here avoids romanticising knightly tales and kicks us into a relentless medieval world with dark modern parallels.