Reel Reviews | The Last Duel

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

The true story of the last reported duel in France gets a movie treatment in the simply titled, The Last Duel.

In the fourteenth century, the country of France is embroiled in war, both on and off the field.  Friends Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) find themselves in the battle for titles, land, and finally over a woman, Jean’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer).  Marguerite claims that she was raped by Le Gris but he claims that they had consensual but improper sex.  Because Carrouges rightfully believes that he will not get the proper justice from the local regent, he petitions the king to issue the right to face Le Gris in a duel.  Unwittingly Jean places the life of his wife in jeopardy because if he fails to win the duel, Marguerite’s life will be ended as well.

Written by Affleck and Damon with Nicole Holofcener based upon the book of the same name by Eric Jager which recounts the last official judicial duel to occur in France, The Last Duel stars Damon, Driver, and Comer with Ben Affleck, Martin Csokas, Harriet Walter and Alex Lawther.  The movie is gloriously directed by Ridley Scott.

First of all, this movie is Ridley Scott at his finest.  Whether it’s Gladiator, Aliens, Blade Runner or the last movie where he worked with Damon, The Martian, Scott’s gritty realistic vision is marvelous.  His attention to detail is spectacular and this movie is no exception.  The action is brutal, raw, and mystifyingly unfiltered.  How Scott can claim that no animals were hurt during the filming of this movie is incredible.

Affleck and Damon re-unite as writers for the first time in a long time.  And since this story is being told in a manner like the classic Rashomon, they brought in Nicole Holofcener to help with Lady Marguerite’s version of the story.  For those who have never seen Rashomon, this story is told three times, each time from the point of view of each person.  The movie opens with the story told through the eyes of Jean de Carrouges, Matt Damon’s character.  The second time it is told through the eyes of Jacques Le Gris and finally, we see the “truth” through the eyes of Marguerite.  It is a smart way to tell the story because it allows the audience to witness the “events” as seen by each one to compare and contrast.  Yet even though the differing accounts of the last two witnesses, Jacques and Marguerite, the audience can clearly see that what happens is rape. 

Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges in 20th Century Studios’ THE LAST DUEL. Photo credit: Patrick Redmond. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Taken at face value, this film is very good.  The performances by each of the actors are excellent.  Damon and Driver are perfect.  Two roles seem to be the most outstanding in the film.  Ben Affleck appears to be having way too much fun playing the scandalous Count Pierre d’Alencon, a regional authority for whom Le Gris works.  Pierre is sinister and morally bankrupt but Affleck plays it well, easily drawing well-deserved ire. 

The best performance is easily that of Jodie Comer.  In playing Marguerite, Comer, in a role that could be considered lesser than until the third story starts, is subtle and subdued until she is forced to show fire, anger, and contempt.  It is her performance that is the most rewarding and outstanding in the film.  Work of this level is usually rewarded with recognition and at this point in time, Comer may have an outside shot at a nomination.

Underneath the surface, the question becomes what is the purpose of the film?  Is it simply the portrayal of a historic moment in time?  Is it a reflection on the antiquated ideals of a society that has gone by?  Or can it be a commentary on the idiotic rationales for justifying, dismissing, or even excusing rape?  Seven centuries have passed and there certainly does not seem to be much progression in thought or treatment of women. 

Recently in Loudon County, a judge incarcerated an abused woman who had come to court to testify about what was done to her, for coming to court under the influence of marijuana.  The judge incarcerated the victim who found whatever courage necessary to relive the horrors that she had faced in an open court!  There is a court scene in The Last Duel, where Marguerite is subjected to vile and disgusting badgering and threats while having to relive the events that happened and face the shame and disbelief from those she considered friends.  The scene repulses the entire audience but the same treatment exists still to this day.  For anyone who has experienced this kind of trauma, the gritty realism that Scott captures in this movie makes it inappropriate and bordering on harmful to experience.

Rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language, The Last Duel is very good in re-telling the story of historical significance.  Visually, it is the kind of work that you would expect from a master like Ridley Scott.  While the story is nearly as good, maybe there was should have been a little more time dedicated to the denouncement of the practices that make it so hard for women to report these crimes.

Grade:  B-