Based on Eric Jager’s 2004 novel, The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France, Ridley Scott’s latest film is an absolute win. With a slew of phenomenal performances, an intriguing plot structure, a fantastic story, and beautiful cinematography, The Last Duel is a film that absolutely immerses you from beginning to end. However, while the film is fantastic, it is not an easy watch and not for everyone.
The Last Duel (2021) is the story of the last officially recognized judicial duel in France in 1386. Tensions between knight Jean de Carrouges (played by Matt Damon) and squire Jacques le Gris (played by Adam Driver) rise as Jacques uses his friendship with Count Pierre d’Alençon (played by Ben Affleck) to acquire land that was supposed to belong to Jean through his wife, Marguerite’s (played by Jodie Comer) dowry. The tensions reach a fever pitch when Marguerite accuses Jacques of raping her. Believing that justice will not be served due to Jacques’ friendship with Count Pierre, Jean reaches out to King Charles VI (played by Alex Lawther) for a trail by combat. This film recounts this tale in three perspectives: from the eyes of Jean, Jacques, and finally Marguerite.
The true story that The Last Duel is telling is a fascinating one filled with lies and betrayal and a reflection on the treatment of women in medieval times. The incredible tale is told through a fantastic script with perfect performances to deliver it. The three leads—Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer—all brought jaw-dropping performances and they will all likely be in the conversations when it’s time for Oscar nominations. It wasn’t just the leads that brought their A-game: Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Alex Lawther, and Tallulah Haddon were all fantastic in their respective roles. Ben Affleck, in particular, was a scene stealer in every scene he was in as he carried a great presence throughout the film.
While I really liked this movie, I agree that the most divisive point on this film is its act structure. This film is split into three parts, with each recounting the same events, but seen through the eyes of the three main characters. A lot of critics that did not enjoy this act structure cite that several scenes (in act two in particular) feel a bit redundant as they are events we’ve already seen but with a few minor changes. While I can definitely see where this can be a negative for some, I completely disagree. I think the three-perspective structure is a brilliant choice for this film as it builds up the suspense and impact of the climax. The way the characters change from perspective to perspective keeps you guessing the motivations and character of each individual until Marguerite’s perspective is finally told in the third act. The issue I see with this storytelling device isn’t that it lessens the quality of the movie, but rather it makes the film less watchable for specifics groups of people. This film is about assault, rape, and how that society looked at and treated women who reported it—with the three perspectives, we see these events unfold three times (with the assault itself shown on screen twice). With that said, if these types of scenes affect you and your ability to watch the film, I might recommend you stay away despite how great I believe the film to be.
Personally, I really enjoyed Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, and if his second film coming out this year (House of Gucci (2021)) is as good as it looks like it will be, this will be the year of Ridley Scott. While I enjoy this film, I understand that this is not going to be a film that everyone will enjoy. Between the act structure and its overall themes and subject matter being a trigger for many, I would recommend that people who can’t watch this type of story read up on the events instead as the story is fascinating.
The Last Duel is rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language.
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