“The Last Duel” is a throwback – a big budget spectacle with a very good cast and timely subject matter in a story from another era.
Director Ridley Scott returns to his historical action roots with a film that is as intense and bloody as “Gladiator.” But the real strength comes from the strong work from the three leads – Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer – as well as a scene-stealing supporting turn from Ben Affleck.
“The Last Duel” is based on a true story of the last legal duel in France – a 14th century conflict between knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Driver).
The men were friends who fought side by side on the battlefield before becoming bitter rivals. Their conflicts reached a boiling point when de Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer), accuses Le Gris of rape – leading to King Charles VI to order the men to settle their dispute via duel.
The film tells the story from the perspective of each of the three leads – starting with the two men before we finally see it from Marguerite’s perspective (each chapter begins with a title card that says the truth according to the character, with the words “the truth” lingering on screen introducing the story).
It’s a repetitive plot structure that could have hindered the film’s pacing, but Scott and the cast make it work – with a large assist from the script (co-written by Damon, Affleck and Nicole Holofcener).
Each chapter allows for layered work from the cast, with details slightly changed in each story to essentially ask the three leads to play three different roles. In Jean de Carrouges’ version he comes off as valiant and heroic, but in the other two versions he is cowardly and boorish. What is seen as a mutual attraction in the Jacques Le Gris section is revealed to be anything but in Marguerite’s story.
The three-part structure also allows Affleck, as Le Gris-allied Count Pierre d’Alençon, to chew the scenery – especially in the second act – providing the film with a villain that lurks beneath the main story.
Damon and Driver are both good, but it is Comer particularly in the final act who really shines – providing a voice for a woman whose life was determined by the results of a duel she had no control over. Her story echoes the current MeToo movement, adding particular relevance to the subject matter.
Comer continues to establish herself as a star on the rise – holding her own with this talented cast – and giving “The Last Duel” a relatable heart and soul in the midst of all the macho bloodshed.