The #MeToo movement gets a 14th century treatment in Ridley Scott’s (ALIEN: COVENANT; THE MARTIAN; EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS; GLADIATOR; THELMA & LOUISE; ALIEN) late medieval period drama based on real events. THE LAST DUEL, based on the 2004 book of the same name by Eric Jager, with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, tells two connected stories in one: the last sanctioned duel in France and the woman who had the strength to level a rape accusation against an influential person in the court of France’s King Charles VI.
Told in a RASHOMON style, THE LAST DUEL begins with the truth according to Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon, FORD v FERRARI; OCEAN’S 8; SUBURBICON; DOWNSIZING; THE MARTIAN), a noble squire who goes off to war for the crown on numerous occasions. Getting on in years and not having a surviving heir, he decides to marry the young, beautiful and well-read Marguerite (Jodie Comer, FREE GUY; TV’s KILLING EVE). While de Carrouges is being the brave knight, his best friend, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver, the STAR WARS franchise; BLACKKKLANSMAN; LOGAN LUCKY; SILENCE; PATERSON; WHILE WE’RE YOUNG; INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS; FRANCES HA), is staying home putting Count Pierre d’Alençon’s (Ben Affleck, TRIPLE FRONTIER; JUSTICE LEAGUE; TO THE WONDER; ARGO) finances in order. Over the years, Count Pierre rewards Le Gris with tracts of fertile land, a military outpost and a title, all of it belonging to de Carrouges. Naturally, that doesn’t go down well with de Carrouges but the circles the two men travel in are small and he decides to bury the hatchet. One day while de Carrouges is away in Paris and his mother has taken the servants with her on an errand, Le Gris shows up at de Carrouges’ home and forces himself on Marguerite. When de Carrouges returns, she tells her husband that she was raped and he agrees to support her in bringing Le Gris to justice. De Carrouges, though, has other motivations for doing so, and he has an idea up his armoured sleeve.
Like all disputes, there are three sides to every story and THE LAST DUEL offers up all three perspectives. Not surprisingly, Le Gris’ version of events paints very different pictures of both men, and it’s a bit of an eye opener. Marguerite’s version of the truth though, which is billed as “the truth”, is the most interesting of them all as we witness the same events that de Carrouges and Le Gris previously covered now through her eyes. We can finally see everyone for who they really are and it’s not pretty at times. One thing is consistent, though, across all the truths: women are treated as property for men to do with what they will.
As the film’s title suggests, the story’s centerpiece is a duel to the death between the two men and who better to direct the sequence than Scott? The director goes full GLADIATOR here and it’s delightful in all its brutality. So many other filmmakers who rely on dim lighting, shaky camerawork, closeups and choppy editing need to take a lesson from this pro. This is how filming a fight sequence should be done! Performances all around are excellent but none is better than Affleck, who camps it up as the debauched count in his bleached blonde hair. It’s the best we’ve seen him in years.
THE LAST DUEL tells us that if there’s anything to be learned from this little slice of history, it’s that not much has changed in 600-plus years. Quite sad, really.
The film opened last Thursday (October 14th) in Hong Kong. It is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year so ignore the reports that it’s bombing at the box office and go see it.
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