‘The Last Duel’ Review

To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, The Last Duel is a historical drama film directed and produced by Ridley Scott from a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon based on the 2004 book of the same name. Affleck and Damon also star alongside Jodie Comer, Adam Driver, Harriet Walter, Nathaniel Parker, and Alex Lawther. Set in medieval France, the story follows Sir Jean de Carrouges, a knight under Count Pierre d’Alençon, who challenges his former best friend Sir Jacques Le Gris, to a duel to the death after Carrouges’s wife, Marguerite accuses Le Gris of raping her. The duel was the last trial by combat ever permitted by the Parlement de Paris or the French Kings.

The acting in the film is superb. Ben Affleck is clearly having a wonderful time playing Count Pierre d’Alençon. It is almost like he is doing theater whenever he appears on screen and it is wonderful to see him having a good time while acting again. Also, the fact that Affleck and Damon are best friends in real life makes it better to see their characters’ severe discontent with each other on film. Matt Damon is brutal as the stubborn yet brave Sir Jean de Carrouges. Portraying him as a man who feels that he has paid his due to the king and should get what he feels he has earned. Things he probably would have gotten if his temper didn’t get the best of him. He regularly makes poor decisions concerning his relationship with Count Pierre that make things harder for him leaving his mother to tell him about how fairness isn’t how the world works.

Adam Driver is very suave as Sir Jacques Le Gris. Proving that he has range, Driver delivers easily next to a cast of veteran actors and doesn’t disappoint. Jacques is shown to be just as brave as Jean, but not as stubborn. He knows his place in society and moves up the ranks because of his easy personality and his intellect. He lives a lifestyle very similar to Count Pierre which makes them fast friends. Jodie Comer is by far the standout turning in a riveting performance that will stand the test of time. A memorable scene involves Marguerite telling the court that she does enjoy sex with her husband and orgasms regularly. However, earlier in the film she speaks to her doctor about how while sex with her husband is enjoyable she does not think that she has ever had an orgasm. She tells this small lie knowing her life is on the line and not wanting to leave her newborn son without a mother or father.

The film is very well written because without looking at the history of what happened, the film leaves breadcrumbs pointing to the fact that Sir Jean will win the final duel. Earlier in the film, Sir Jacques states that he would never bet against Sir Jean in a fight. This shows the audience that even he knows while he is more intelligent than Carrouges, he is nowhere near the knight he is in battle. Taking such a small story it amazes how encompassing the scope ends up becoming. This one small thing between knights become the talk of all of France. The film is unafraid to explore multidimensional characters having an illiterate man who is from the higher class, an intelligent man who had to work his way up from the lower class, and of course a woman who is not meant to be more than a wife and mother. The point is made that the act of rape is not so much against Marguerite as it is against Sir Jean because she is considered his property.

The Last Duel is broken up into three chapters each following events from the perspective of one of the three main characters. Chapter 1 is from Sir Jean’s point of view, Chapter 2 is from Sir Jacques’ point of view, and Chapter 3 is from Marguerite’s point of view culminating with the trial and final confrontation between the two former friends. Throughout each chapter, many of the scenes overlap with minor differences in dialogue, movement, and facial expressions to show how people hear and view things differently. Some differentiating details are as small as Marguerite taking off her shoes after a verbal exchange with Jacques in Chapter 2 to Marguerite tripping and her shoes falling off while running from Jacques after the verbal exchange in Chapter 3. The amount of times Marguerite screams as well as the volume in which she screams during the rape scene differs between Chapters 2 and 3. In Chapter 1, Sir Jean and Marguerite’s marriage shows him as more of a loving husband. In Chapter 3 however, he is more standoffish toward his new bride. Sir Jean is also more gallant in Chapter 1 whereas in Chapter 3 he is more stubborn and brash. Very few scenes line up perfectly from one perspective to the next. The only scene of note is when the two friends make up briefly.

The set design is put together very well at times making it hard to figure out which parts are digital and which parts were real. The only times you can sort of tell is when there are large crowds necessary for a scene. The costume design is breathtaking as you can undoubtedly see the time and effort that was put into the minor details of the characters. Since The Last Duel is set in medieval France, even when the clothes of a character look relatively clean when the camera shows a close up to the teeth or fingernails of some of the characters there is visible dirt and grime and stains on them. It shows the difference in hygiene that was present during those times. This makes the film a good history lesson as well because it also shows how far we’ve come in medical science. There are scenes where Marguerite is talking to her doctor as well as those in court about feminine health. Statements are made about women being unable to get pregnant unless they orgasm during sex as well as women being unable to get pregnant from rape because pregnancy only happens when you enjoy the sex. These statements were believed as scientific fact back then and it makes you empathize with Marguerite’s pain even more.

The film could have been shortened a little bit and still gotten the point across well. With the film being as long as it is, each chapter could have been shortened slightly to include a fourth chapter from Count Pierre d’Alençon’s perspective as he is just as involved in the story as the other three. Maybe this can be included in a director’s cut. The rape scene being shown in Chapters 2 and 3 feels excessive. After finding out that it was indeed a rape, Chapter 3 could have ended that scene with Le Gris closing the door behind him.

The great thing about this film is that it does not misconstrue the fact that Sir Jacques Le Gris raped Marguerite de Carrouges. During both accounts of the incident, it is clear to the audience what is happening. The point is that Sir Jacques does not believe what he did was rape and that is where the true story lies. I give The Last Duel a Decent 8.8/10. Like many films today I do feel while the film is enjoyable also worked as a limited series. The content in here is so rich and deep that I would not have minded if it were expanded into four or five episodes.

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