The Last Duel review: contemporary relevance in the Middle Ages

Entertaiment

This Ridley Scott movie was already on our list of movies to watch for in 2020 . But especially to see how it would turn out. Because the plot seemed like a really bad idea at first glance. Two men who compete for their honor after one of them’s wife is raped. It seemed like the focus would be all wrong. But we withdraw our words from then because that is probably the impression that the now 83-year-old filmmaker wanted to create. The Last Duel is much more nuanced, but no less vengeful.

Back to the Middle Ages
In 1386, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver, Marriage Story ) are close friends and comrades in arms. Together they lead battles for feudal lord Pierre (Ben Affleck) in the name of the king. But Jean gradually disgraces Pierre while Jacques becomes his right-hand man. However, his luck seems to change when Jean gets the chance to marry Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve , Free Guy ). He also gets her dowry, including some pieces of land. But then one of those pieces is given to Le Gris by Pierre. As a result, they get an even bigger feud and the de Carrouges family is no longer welcome at court.

Some time later they come to a reconciliation where Le Gris also gets to know Marguerite, who is very impressed by her. But later, after Jean returns from weeks of battle campaign, Marguerite says she was attacked by Le Gris while he was gone. He denies but the Carrouges still wants a duel to the death. That practice had actually already been abolished, but due to the rumor of this case, an exception is once again made. If Jean wins, Marguerite is proven to be telling the truth. Otherwise she too will have to die.

Smart scenario
And that truth is exactly what this is about. It also turns out to be different for different people. The story is presented in three chapters. The first represents the truth according to Jean, the second according to Jacques and the third (and only correct) according to Marguerite. Here lies the greatest strength of The Last Duel. The script had to be handled in such a way that it did more than deliver the original premise. Each of the three parts tells parts of essentially the same story, but the final picture is completely different. I won’t say too much but there are subtle differences between the parts that add to the meaning. For example, there is a reconciliation that proceeds differently or glances and attention that suddenly mean something completely different. That way the 2.5 hours of this film will fly by in no time.

And yes, it wasn’t the Middle Ages for nothing. At that time, women had absolutely nothing to say without their husbands. Indeed, what happens to Marguerite is more a matter of honor for the men than justice for her. No wonder women in those days didn’t dare to say anything. Because yes, it is very clear that this film wants to address sexual violence and transgressive behaviour. Some may see this as a way of saying how far it’s come for women, but the film also makes it clear that it’s sadly a timeless story. The difference in points of view, the consequences, the impact, they can all be extended to now. So if you’re someone who thinks there are enough MeToo stories by now, you’re missing the point completely and this movie won’t be for you either.

Successful costume drama
But I found all this, along with the costume drama packaging, to be a very unexpected yet entertaining and effective story. It’s been a while since I saw a movie that was set in the Middle Ages and operated on such a grand scale as this one. The Last Duel strings together the spectacular action scenes throughout the film. Hundreds of extras with swords, armor and horses transport you back. Also the production design of Arthur Max ( The Martian) with the many castles and candlelight shots, and the beautiful costumes add to the experience. In addition, many parts of ordinary medieval life are discussed, such as marriages, work, etc. for history buffs. Add to that the medieval-inspired music of Harry Gregson-Williams and you have forgotten about modern technology for a while.

In addition, the top cast also keeps you glued to the screen. Appearance wise, Matt Damon is the least affected by his character’s neck tapestry and scars. Ben Affleck, on the other hand, is having a great time as the bleached, eccentric gentleman Pierre. Actually, Adam Driver is about the only man with whom the Middle Ages suit him. (His locks are timeless anyway.) You get to know a side from him that he actually already showed in Star Wars but gets much worse here.

But the real star of The Last Duel is Jodie Comer. She is the heart of the film, so she draws every scene to herself. Since she takes center stage in the last part, everything stands or falls with her performance. And it stands like afortressHouse. Actually, I thought all the focus would be on the reunion of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as a writing duo. But with Nicole Holofcener (responsible for the great menstrual joke in Black Widow ) they make for anything but run of the mill costume drama, and a lot of spectacle from the hand of Ridley Scott. So yes, I’ll say it again: I will never doubt these people again.