Ridley Scott’s latest epic, THE LAST DUEL, is both a tough watch and one of the best films of the year. It is one of those movies that I probably will not want to re-watch on a continuous basis because of the gut-wrenching content, but one that is an exemplar of good, important filmmaking, with a visceral and inventive screenplay, rich cinematography, direction on an epic scale, and tremendous performances from the entire cast, particularly Jodie Comer.
Based on a true story, the film follows the story of Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer), who discloses that she was raped by Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), her husband’s greatest frienemy. When she tells her husband Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) about the assault, he decides to take it public and tells anyone who will listen about the attack, including members of the nobility like Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck). Jean is determined to make Jacques pay for what he has done and challenges him to a duel to the death, which turns out to be the last legally sanctioned duel in French history. The outcome of this duel not only will result in one dead squire or knight, but also has potentially dire consequences for Marguerite.
The film is split into three acts, each told from a different character’s perspective. Affleck and Damon wrote for the male characters and co-writer Nicole Holofcener wrote from the female point of view. The first act centers around Jean’s perception of how the events unfolded and the second from Jacque’s point of view. The third act, however, which the film makes sure to highlight is the real version of events, is told from Marguerite’s perspective. This was such a creative and smart way to write a film of this scale, and I loved all of the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in each version of events. Again, this probably isn’t a movie you will want to watch over and over again, but if you did, I bet you would find new Easter eggs in every viewing.
It has been a very long time since I have been as stressed in a movie as I was in the final act of THE LAST DUEL. The gripping script made me so invested in the characters that I thought I was going to jump out of my skin throughout the film, especially when waiting for the results of the duel. The film may be a little over 2 1/2 hours but it blows by; I was engaged every second. I can only imagine what my heart rate/ blood pressure was during the film, as evidenced by the fact that I have no remnants of fingernails to speak of. Pro tip: If your theater has a bar attached (and you are of age) suggest getting a crisp alcoholic beverage to calm your nerves as you get close to the end. You are going to need it.
The movie should just be called JODIE COMER because she is absolutely brilliant in the role of Marguerite. I know awards are not the be all end all, especially with a movie that is as issues-based as this, but if she doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar, the Academy will be making one of the worst decisions in its history. Comer is already one of my favorite actors working today thanks to her show-stopping turn as Villanelle on KILLING EVE (among many other great roles). But her performance in THE LAST DUEL is next level.
Of course some of her most spectacular work in the film (and her career) comes in the film’s darkest scenes, but I think there is a lot to be said for the subtle moments, the flickers in Comer’s expressions that have multiple interpretations throughout each act. For example, one smile from Comer has the ability to convey flirtation, humor, and kindness all in one small moment. This movie would not be what it is without Comer’s captivating performance, which acts as the backbone of the film, and I am so happy she is able to again show the world that she is one of the best actors working today by going toe-to-toe with legendary actors like Damon, Affleck, and Driver.
And speaking of, don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Damon, Affleck, and Driver. This may be Comer’s film, but these three men are, no surprise, at the top of their games. I will admit I was initially concerned that Affleck and Damon’s appearances in the film would be distracting. But that quickly left my mind when I saw just how good they are in their roles. Making them not look like their typical movie star, action hero selves is a nod to the fact that their characters, who on paper should be heroes (after all one of them is a knight), are actually two of the more complicated, dare I say villains, in this piece. And Adam Driver… it takes a lot of courage to take on such a monstrous role as Jacques Le Gris, but Driver is an actor that takes risks. His innate charisma permeates through his character, enabling us to see how an archetype like this, in whatever century, can be so beguiling and callous.
THE LAST DUEL is one of the most important films I have seen this year. Although the film takes place in the late 14th century, the historic nature of the story itself exemplifies that the issues women face—including consent, being heard and believed, and equality—are sadly still the same issues we are combatting today. We see it in the faces of the brave women of the #MeToo movement, who have shown that like Marguerite all of those years ago, they want their voices against injustice heard. The aggressors in this film may be wearing chainmail, but believing this issue is stuck only in the history books is one of the biggest hypocrisies this film is seeking to combat. This film is the epitome of a Hollywood epic, one that we do not get enough of anymore and that you need to see on the big screen.
My Review: A