Ridley Scott’s first of two films releasing this fall, “The Last Duel,” is a medieval epic about a woman named Marguerite (Jodie Comer), who claims that a knight by the name Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) raper her while husband Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) was away. This grisly and haunting film is elevated by its four leads (add Ben Affleck to the mix) and its “Rashomon”-like narrative device. The film’s three chapters evenly disburse the right amount of story from Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite. Comer especially stands out and has officially made herself known with an Oscar-worthy performance (all the more impressive after this summer’s “Free Guy”).
It’s almost unbelievable that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have not appeared on-screen in so long. They work the best together, with Affleck always able to play the sly asshole when needed. Despite his wig being an eyesore early on, his accent was the most impressive of the cast, with a deep, intimidating timbre to his voice. Affleck’s signature cackle came out in some moments, but that’s nitpicking an otherwise stellar performance.
“Nothing prevents a woman from being loved by two men,” reads Adam Driver’s character during a dinner party. That line, along with “A new love excels an old love,” tells you all you need to know about his character’s morals. Driver’s performance is cold-blooded and ruthless. His character, Jacques Le Gris, takes absolutely no prisoners, and his stoic nature makes him all the more intimidating. The role is far more sinister and deplorable than any other role he has taken on, and credit to him for taking it on.
Perhaps the most relatable thing about “The Last Duel” is the way each perspective slightly differs from the last. It’s human nature to want yourself to look the best when you tell a story from your perspective, and subtle differences such as a different reaction from Damon’s character to being told Marguerite was raped in their two respective stories. It shows our tendency to look at ourselves through the rosiest of lenses.
“The Last Duel” is not an easy watch. Rape, prostitution, and gory battles are all displayed on numerous occasions. However, perhaps the most gut-wrenching aspect of it all is the way women are portrayed. Marguerite is basically told to “get over it” by both her good friend and her mother-in-law. The severity of lying about acquisitions includes being stripped, flogged, and burned alive. It’s tragic, and while the story takes place 800 years ago, it’s baffling that you can still see women struggle with remaining silent in situations like these. Jodie Comer is so vulnerable in her performance. The audience not questioning whether she is lying or not furthers the frustration viewers feel when she is questioned.
By the time the actual duel occurs, you’ll likely be emotionally drained from having to watch the same events unfold numerous times. This isn’t “Bad Times at the El Royale” where each perspective is around 10-15 minutes, “The Last Duel” gives each story roughly 45-50 to develop. A two-and-a-half-hour runtime is intimidating, but it’s loaded from top to bottom and makes the most of it. There’s not much downtime in the story, and it’s not as if much could have been cut anyways. It’s an epic, and who does it better than Ridley Scott?
The final duel between Jean and Jacques is like a heavyweight bout. It’s got slow-motion shots and intense close-ups that keep it engaging. These were barbaric times, and this sequence is able to display that. The fight also displays how much chance plays a part in the end result. For instance, a horse falls on one of the character’s legs, and thus he falls to the ground and makes for an easy target. But the one who was on his feet and seemingly had an advantage is then kicked in the head by the horse. It was truly a back-and-forth battle, and there could not have been a better end to the film. While some may call it predictable, it always felt like it could truly go one way or the other.
“The Last Duel” is a medieval epic that we need more of. From the stunning cinematography and architecture to the very honest performances, to the trickling score, the film works on so many levels. Comer could take home an Oscar or a nomination at the very least, and we’ll likely look back at “The Last Duel” as her “coming out” party to Hollywood. Go in without much water, you won’t want to have to miss a beat.