#MeToo in the Middle Ages: Frequent filmmaker Ridley Scott joins in THE LAST DUEL back to its epochal historical film roots and staged a script by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon that could hardly be more classic and at the same time more current. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The Last Duel
France, 1386: The country is marked by the violence and devastation of the Hundred Years’ War. Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) is a respected knight from Normandy, of noble blood and famous for his bravery. His friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), son of a Norman squire, is a squire and, thanks to his intelligence and eloquence, one of the most respected nobles at court. When Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck) assists Le Gris in a bitter land dispute, Le Gris’ status rises, much to Carrouges’ dismay. Their relationship deteriorates even further when Pierre appoints Le Gris as his steward, and Carrouges’ narcissism and reckless behavior results in him being expelled from court. But Carrouges is not discouraged by this injustice and marries Marguerite (Jodie Comer), the beautiful, clever and strong-willed daughter of Sir Robert de Thibouville (Nathaniel Parker). A year later, Carrouges introduces his wife to Le Gris, and the two men agree to bury their conflicts. When Carrouges, who continues to fight for his country, returns home after a particularly painful defeat, he learns that Marguerite was brutally attacked by Le Gris, which he denies. Marguerite refuses to remain silent and raises her voice to accuse her attacker – an act of bravery and resistance that puts her life at risk…
When Emmerald Fennell’s Oscar-winning revenge thriller drama “Promising Young Woman” was released in cinemas in December of last year in the USA and in August 2021 in United Kingdom, everything had apparently been said on the topic of misogyny in the present. Then Edgar Wright, who is usually responsible for humorous material, opened the door from the here and now to the past in “Last Night in Soho” (USA release on November 11th) and made connections between structural sexism in the 21st century and the supposedly dazzling 1960s . The “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” author Judith Holofcener enlisted the author duo Matt Damon, who are working together for the second time after “Good Will Hunting,” for her script for the medieval epic (“The Martian – Save Mark Watney”) and Ben Affleck (“Gone Girl – The Perfect Victim”) and with them, based on a true story – the one about the last knight’s duel of life and death held in France – takes many, many steps back in history and shows in “The Last Duel”, which is presented from three different narrative perspectives: Many Today’s problems didn’t just exist in the 1960s; The structural oppression of women, which is now finally breaking down in many places, has its roots much, much earlier. And a certain idiocy in this is not a contemporary phenomenon either.
Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges and Adam Driver as Jacques Le Gris, former good friends and later rivals.
For the directing position on “The Last Duel”, a director was hired in the form of frequent filmmaker Ridley Scott, whose CV has always done a great service to the increased perception of women in big-budget productions. Back in the late 1970s, he created a genre heroine for eternity with Ripley in “Alien – The Uncanny Creature from a Strange World”. In 1997, he portrayed Jordan O’Neil, a female lieutenant in the US Navy, in the admittedly poorly aged The Jane Files. And in his controversial thriller “The Counselor,” the much-maligned “Alien” sequels “Prometheus” and “Covenant,” as well as the bestselling film adaptation “The Martian,” female characters were never just staff, but rather fundamental components of strong stories. Nonetheless, so is Scott the Man, when it comes to directing powerful, testosterone-charged historical cinema. In “The Last Duel” these two characteristics now meet; And with them three narrative points of view to which Scott and the authors pay equal attention throughout the lush 152 minute running time. This division into three chapters makes the film entertaining overall, but also sets it up for a clear position right from the start. Introduced with a text panel whose subjective perception we will be following in the coming minutes (“The truth from the perspective of Jean de Carrouges”, “The truth from the perspective of Jacques Le Gris” and “The truth from the perspective of Lady Marguerite”) in this order), the term “The Truth” remains much longer in the last third, while the name has already faded. No question: “The Last Duel” tells clearly and clearly about a rape case that leaves no ambiguity.
“The narrative division into three chapters makes the film entertaining overall, but also focuses it on a clear position right from the start.”
The fact that the makers are taking this route is certainly primarily due to the fact that a film like “The Last Duel” is receiving significantly more attention these days than it was a few years ago, simply because of its subject matter. And then there is the visibly high budget (there are currently no exact details about the film’s production costs available), along with the star cast including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Adam Driver (“The Report”) and Jodie Comer (“Free Guy”), which doesn’t turn “The Last Duel” into a small exercise that will probably remain largely hidden from the masses, but into a production of blockbuster proportions. It is understandable that people avoid making too many barbs. And ultimately the question arises as to with what emphasis (or lack of subtlety) such a case should be told must, when the facts are so obvious. However, it is a shame that Scott completely foregoes a change in tonality when presenting the various narrative strands. If it could have given even more emphasis to the narrative concerns of all three characters, not only isolated details in their dealings with the other two parties would have been presented differently in their perspective, but also the view of their environment itself. But the capture of the important little things was even more successful. Sometimes it’s just a tiny nuance in a kiss that shows: While Lady Marguerite perceives it as intrusive, Jacques Le Gris sees it as an erotic provocation and for Jean de Carrouges it even plays no role as a polite gesture of the time. The same applies to the description of how much (or whether at all) the woman gave herself during the violent attack or to what extent Jean de Carrouges actually immediately supported his wife after she reported the incident to him.
Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) fights not only for herself, but also for women.
The fact that “The Last Duel” draws its narrative appeal primarily from the tiny, interpersonal nuances is an interesting contrast to Ridley Scott’s otherwise opulent staging of the theaters of war (camera: Dariusz Wolski, “News from the world”), which, especially in the first chapter, which is told from Jean de Carrouge’s perspective, takes up more space than is necessary for the story and character development of the character. Here you can’t help but get the impression that Scott simply can’t help but let off steam in a medieval setting. And even if the two and a half hours are barely dragging overall, “The Last Duel” could easily be shortened by half an hour if the battles that are irrelevant in terms of content were reduced to the bare essentials. Nevertheless, some particularly martial moments were withheld, which could hardly better represent the omnipresent brutality (and exclusively carried out by men) at the time. In the first half of the film, Scott gives us a foretaste of the violence he will ultimately unleash in the final duel with fountains of blood, severed limbs and close-up shots of swords thrust into bodies. None of this is inherent in any transfiguration of heroic chivalry. When Matt Damon and Adam Driver fight each other on horseback, it is clear that not only the four-legged friends have to pay for this fight with their lives, but also one of the two riders. And even if the winner is ultimately celebrated like a hero, the two and a half hours beforehand make it very clear what a paradox the population was faced with at that time, when all the carnage only took place because the patriarchy responded to a woman’s descriptions of abuse didn’t give any faith.
“In the first half of the film, Scott gives us a taste of the violence he will unleash in the final duel with fountains of blood, severed limbs and close-up swords thrust into bodies.”
It almost goes without saying that the strongest acting performance comes from the petite Jodie Comer; Simply because her role is the one that requires the most subtlety in performance. With her outstandingly differentiated acting, Comer makes it tangible how submitting to the rules of the time at court and in society collides with standing up for the individual woman, cleverly avoiding the simple emotion of pity. Even script sentences that are all too obviously intended to establish connections to the present, but seem to be placed here in the context, are still conveyed with sincere decency by the British-born artist. Only now and then – but never in common scenes – does a peroxide-blond Ben Affleck steal the show as Count Pierre d’Alençon, who lives a dissolute life of orgies and alcohol, and who excellently underlines the idiocy of various social norms bordering on overacting.
Conclusion: “The Last Duel” is a powerful medieval epic without any glorifying romanticization of chivalry, whose appeal arises from the fact that a story told with very subtle means about a real case of abuse collides with martial combat cinema – and in the end the drama of the story wins the upper hand.
“The Last Duel” can be seen in USA cinemas from October 15, 2021.