By Aisha S
Sir Ridley Scott’s epic medieval movie is set in France in the late 1300s. It starts with a flashforward involving two estranged rivals fighting for their lives in a gruesome sword duel.
Based on a true story, Knight Jean De Carrouges (played by Matt Damon) Challenges the squire Jacques le Gris (played by Adam Driver) for a trial by combat after the latter is accused of raping Jean’s wife Marguerite De Carrouges (played by Jodie Comer). It was apparently the last legally sanctioned duel to the death in France.
The event leading up to the duel is told in a Rashomon structure where we are shown deception as well as the truth. It is divided into three chapters, each chapter includes the narration of the truth according to the perspectives of the three main characters.
The Last Duel moves forward with Carrouges version of the truth. His perspective is vague and revolves around him being the ultimate saviour of his wife Marguerite. This chapter is easily the weakest part of the movie, but it helps in setting up the foundation. Carrouges lets his false pride cloud his memory of the factual events and presents himself as the deluded/conquering hero.
Jacques Le Gris is a literate scoundrel, he is known for his reputation as a womanizer. Le Gris is attracted to Marguerite upon their first meeting and believes he is the better man for her, not her illiterate old husband who becomes a laughing stock after his childish outburst in Count Pierre’s court. Marguerite refuses Le Gris’ advances towards her but he thinks she is playing coy. Even from his perspective, it is clearly depicted as rape leaving zero ambiguity.
The incoherent collection of muddled chronicles from the two men are challenged when Marguerite De Carrouges tells her own version of the truth. The title card makes it apparent that her recount of the event is full of authenticity and candour. The context keeps getting more perspicuous and gut-wrenching as we get to the end of Marguerite De Carrouges’ standpoint.
The actors bring out subtle changes in their performances each time the same story is told from a different perspective. The three contrasting chapters majorly aids in tonal shifting and stronger contextual build-up. What may seem like a vague circumstance to one character may be physically or emotionally damaging when switched to the point of view of another character.
The smallest, intricate details in these three distinct segments are flawlessly captured. Le Gris, who thinks of himself as an intelligent romantic, does some cape swishing in his perspective while Carrouges barely notices this display of action from his vantage point.
The build-up leading to the titular duel is simply remarkable. The absurdity and brutality towards the women of the medieval age equity system is excruciating to watch.
The production values and the costume designs are imposingly striking. The cinematography captures the bleakness of the weather really well to go along with the film’s intense atmosphere. Despite being 152 minutes in length, the movie has steady pacing and doesn’t feel like it’s prolonged just for the sake of it.
The Last Duel, at one point, has meandering script writing but is elevated by some commendable performances from the actors. Jodie Comer steals the limelight here. Comer’s nuanced portrayal of Marguerite De Carrouges is award-worthy. She truly shines in the third act.
Adam Driver provides a compelling performance as the villain and makes it clear that he is the virtuoso in cape flourishing skills. Matt Damon looked out of place sometimes (and that ghastly mullet certainly doesn’t help), but he plays the role of a misogynistic vermin really well. Ben Affleck as Pierre d’Alençon provides some much needed comic relief in this grisly tale of brutality and despondence.
The Last Duel is an enthralling story about the bias of internal narratives. Ridley Scott gives us the most distressful invitation into a young woman’s disposition, who suffers in the midst of egotistical men and the injustice of the historical judicial system. This movie has some hard-hitting battles and outstandingly lavish sets. It takes a risky swing of being original and definitely has some flaws, but the message is concise and relevant.