At its core, the story The Last Duel tells is straightforward. Set in France circa 1386, it concerns itself with three characters whose lives become fatefully intertwined: Carrouges (Matt Damon), Le Gris (Adam Driver), and Marguerite (Jodie Comer), the woman who both covet, albeit for vastly different reasons. Based on our knowledge of other movies or television shows, one might comfortably assume that these three would comprise a standard love triangle. As the movie progresses, however, any preconceived notions that the story will be romantic in any way, shape or form are thoroughly and decisively trounced.
The Last Duel begins with an almost casual, unassuming tone, concerning itself with Carrouges and Le Gris fighting the good fight, as they are commanded to do. A reckless action by Carrouges puts him on the outs with Count Pierre (Ben Affleck). Le Gris, intelligent and ingratiating, strikes up a relationship with Pierre, who quickly becomes prosperous, often at the expense of his former friend Carrouges. As the enmity between the two grows, the movie’s tone dramatically shifts from uncomfortable, then to brutal, ending with terrifying. As a man in the audience, I likened the overall experience to being repeatedly punched in the gut. I suspect women will be able to take solace (relief?) in how the movie ends, but the journey itself is long and arduous, regardless of your gender affiliation.
The movie clearly is a polemic, a categorization I don’t apply dismissively. The Last Duel may be a tale involving medieval knights set in the fourteenth century, but it is also unequivocally (and unapologetically) a #MeTo story. The movie serves as a pretext for the argument that the injustices on display in the movie have been endured by women for centuries, long before there was a hashtag associated with it.
Directed with gusto by Ridley Scott, scenes in the movie will certainly echo with those familiar with Gladiator. As expected, there are scenes of snow-flecked battle vistas that work in spite of being poorly framed. The scope of the battle gets lost among screams, sudden spurts of blood and clanging swords. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are where Ridley excels, and the duel for which the movie gets its name is a tour de force.
The emotional and moral center in The Last Duel is Marguerite. As acted by the incredibly capable Jodie Comer, she brings raw, emotional honesty to a character whose life is in the hands of men who are pigheaded, self-absorbed and deceitful by varying degrees. Matt Damon fares well as human battle axe Carrouges, useful during a fight but simplistic and vacant in all other environments. Adam Driver serves up oily charm as the opportunistic Le Gris, employing
his intellect only to satisfy his desires. Damon and Affleck’s portrayals are a bit heavy-handed and cartoonish. Damon’s Carrouges is presented as thick-headed and prideful, and could have used more subtlety. Affleck’s performance is geared towards comic relief, and comes across as a strange mashup of Jeremy Irons aristocratic drawl and John Malcovich debauchery.
At two-and-a-half hours, The Last Duel is an incredibly riveting and engrossing endurance test. This is the rare movie that is completely unsparing towards its characters and its audience, forcing both to relive a brutal sexual assault in its entirety twice. What the movie lacks subtlety it makes up for with an unsparing view of the reality for women, past and present. Few movies set out to intentionally damage their audience, and this one definitely succeeds, dishing out a bloody nose and a black eye along the way (metaphorically speaking). I’ve long since recovered from my wounds, but I suspect the resulting scars will never completely fade away. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Recommended.Continue reading “The Last Duel”