Ridley Scott offers a 14th century take on the #metoo movement
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | October 21, 2021
The Last Duel
Now Playing in Theatres
While Ridley Scott commands respect in most circles, he’s not an easy guy to trust. For every The Martian (a perfect popcorn movie), there’s a pretentious award-chasing flick — most recently, All the Money in the World. For every masterpiece (Alien, Blade Runner), a bloated mess (Kingdom of Heaven, Exodus: Gods and Kings). One thing is undeniable though, his craftsmanship is always aces.
The 84-year-old Brit is as active as ever. This year, he has two studio films with decent budgets and Academy Award ambitions. House of Gucci (a sudsy drama starring Lady Gaga) is expected for the end of the year, while The Last Duel was written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (alongside Nicole Holofcener) — their first script since winning the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting in 1998.
The film is based in history — the last officially recognized judicial duel in France in the late 14th century. But it doubles as proto #metoo. Damon plays the knight Jean de Carrouges, who accuses squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer, Killing Eve).
There were no witnesses, so it’s her word against his. And this at a time when a woman’s testimony only counted if she had a husband with property to back her up.
Scott tells the story Rashomon-style. First, we are introduced to de Carrouges, a chip-on-the-shoulder kind of guy. He and Le Gris start as brothers-in-arms, but the relationship sours because of perceived slights. Later, we witness the same events from Le Gris’ perspective. Carrouges comes across as callous and moody, while Le Gris sees himself as a fair man who happens to be irresistible to women. The third POV, from Marguerite, is closest to the truth. Without going into spoilers, let’s just say both men have inflated opinions of themselves.
Scott avoids being repetitive by unveiling information strategically. In fact, the film is actually at its best when setting up the action. However, when the focus shifts to the topics that make The Last Duel current the film becomes clumsy and broad. The script shoves in lines destined to make you think “things haven’t changed all that much, have they?”
The movie picks up again as the duel approaches. Scott knows a thing or two about gritty and gnarly violence (see Brad Pitt’s death in The Counselor), and the fight to the death is brutal, with both parties on top at different stages (avoid Wikipedia if you don’t want to know the result).
The unexpected MVP of The Last Duel is Ben Affleck. Originally slated to play Le Gris, Affleck instead took the role of nobleman Pierre d’Alencon — a man who doesn’t believe in divine right, but is happy to exploit it, as well as every advantage that comes from being born a lord in the Middle Ages.
While well intentioned and entertaining throughout, The Last Duel would have benefited from less moralizing. Sometimes the audience needs something spelled out, but not here.