1386. The background of France’s final trial through battle is seen from three perspectives: the Norman knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), who accuses his former friend Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer); Le Gris, who denies the crime; and Marguerite herself, who would be burned at the stake if her husband lost.
Jerusalem (Kingdom Of Heaven). So to find his sharp eyes focused again on the distant past, and the conflict that drew so many people, should come as no surprise.
Instead, we spent most of his two-and-a-half hours surveying interesting bits and pieces of medieval French life (running the household, downgrading dowry negotiations), zoning out a rape trial. However, it will take some time before we get to the heart of the matter: “Rape is not a crime against a woman” in this society, we learn. “This is a property crime against her husband.” Furthermore, if Marguerite’s husband lost the trial for the battle he demanded to settle this matter, he would be considered a liar in God’s eyes and burned at the stake.
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With its Rashomon-inspired three-act structure, it’s the husband, played by Matt Damon with an 80s mullet and uncertain accent, who gets the first voice (written by Damon). This gives the film a somewhat awkward start as it presents a litany of bitter male complaints at the hands of playboy count Pierre d’Alençon—played cynically by Ben Affleck.
The second part, written by Affleck, switches the POV to d’Alençon’s favorite bodyguard, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), a charmer who used to get whatever he wanted, who lusts after Marguerite with dire results. While he’s taking events, thankfully, there’s no attempt at the narrative to condone his behavior, or his crimes (which we have to watch twice, so be careful).
But it’s not until the final segment, written by Nicole Holofcener, that the film discovers her true and most compelling voice in Marguerite, who Comer impressively describes as a not-so-advanced woman of her time as a natural defiance of her patriarchal parody. You may not find it worthy to sit through a deserving version of Jean and Jacques to achieve this, but they provide frustrating context for what Marguerite faces in daring to speak.
It’s almost a shame when Scott returns to form and finally pulls out a spear and knife. While the climactic fight is splendidly done, it puts Comer aside, and you’re so tormented by the self-inflating testosterone stupidity of the participating men that it’s a tough sequence to enjoy, regardless of the stakes.
Although that is the essence of this film. Nothing to cheer up. We may have been more than 600 years past this perverted sense of justice, but when it comes to the treatment of women like Marguerite, The Last Duel suggests, we haven’t gotten as far as we thought.
And if its triple perspective tests patience, at least it gives the right characters the last word.
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