Casual Rambling
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Casual Rambling

Movie Review: The Last Duel

Rating: 2 and 1/2 Stars

from Financial Times

There are three sides to every dispute: Two rivaling accounts and the truth.

The Last Duel explores this notion that each person experiences a story through their own biased narrative, and it does so with careful nuance. The Last Duel is split into three chapters, each accounting for the two men that are quarreling, and the woman caught in between who reports the definitive experience.

The Last Duel is the first time since Good Will Hunting that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are writing a film together. They bring help in the form of Nicole Holofcener, a writer-director. Damon stars in the film. Affleck plays a major role. Ridley Scott is in the directorial chair. Quite the team.

Set in 14th century France in the era of peasantry, plagues, fiefdoms, and lords, Jean de Carrogues (Matt Damon) is a knight who swings swords and asks questions later. Before I go any further I must mention that Damon sometimes has an accent and sometimes sounds like Matt Damon so I was a bit confused with what the intention was vocally. Jean befriends fellow warrior Jacques le Gris (Adam Driver). Jacques is scholarly and charismatic which diametrically opposes Jean’s brutish one-track mind mentality.

Jacques is a much more capable confidante to the local lord Pierre (Ben Affleck) so the two befriend each other. Pierre bestows land upon Jacques that Jean was set to acquire due to his marriage to Marguerite (Jodie Comer). Pierre also gives Jacques control over a fort that was owned by Jean’s father. Jean grows angry with Pierre and Jacques whilst Jacque covets Jean’s wife.

The film is segmented into three chapters. The first tells the story from the perspective of Jean. Than Jacques. Finally, Marguerite’s perspective recants the truth.

A menacing rape scene plays twice over. The viewpoints of the man versus the woman are of vast importance. A powerful theme of men’s denial in their own complicit words and actions comes through strongly.

Outside of exploring its theme though, The Last Duel is mostly flat and unadventurous. Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite play more like archetypes than they do individual people. To put it simply, they aren’t that interesting.

The chapters in which different perspectives of the same event also didn’t carry enough weight for some scenes. The actors and directorial framing portray the different nuances in each character’s account of the events, but its significance can feel trivial at times.

For sake of analogy, The Last Duel follows a specific drumbeat that’s clean and well-made but never deviates from that beat.

While Damon, Driver, and Comer all do throw themselves into the performance, it’s Affleck who shines when on-screen. Pierre is also an archetype but Affleck digs in and immerses into the role.

The fight scenes are involved and visceral with loud metallic sound effects that represent the clashing of swords and chattering armor. These scenes are fairly standard as well by presenting a vast mess of bodies engaging in combat.

The actual ‘last duel’ as promised delivers a tense battle scene as Jean and Jacques fight for their lives but more so their pride.

The best moment of the film involves a sneak attack on Jean’s company where fire arrows hurtle toward them. Most of the men turn tail while Jean stands stoic and bellows, “Why do they run!?!” Arrows whisk off his armor plates as he walks toward the enemy threat.

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film was well reviewed in both the critic and audience categories. The basis appears to be around the film’s expressive dramatics around 14th-century misogyny and how it connects to our world today. I would wager to say it Ridley Scott gets the job done but it doesn’t leave me pondering much beyond what I already know. Women have suffered and continue to suffer due to the ideals of prideful and envious men.

There’s no silver lining in that and The Last Duel is not for the faint of heart that searches for guilt. But this certainly feels like a story that is truncated contextually to play well on a movie theatre screen. The Last Duel is a book adaptation, cue the voices of the, “should’ve read the book crowd.”

While I wasn’t moved or provoked by The Last Duel, I respect its vision. Unfortunately, I think the film desired to be more of a social commentary than what it was. In order to do so the story and overarching theme needed to be delivered in a more subversive manner. While the film developed Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite as characters through their accounts, my expectations of them were rarely challenged.

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J. King

J. King

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