I went into The Last Duel with no prior knowledge and no expectations. Although choosing to view this film to feed my curiosity, for the most part, I wanted an escape from modern day life. The idea of throwing myself into another time with director Ridley Scott’s historical drama seemed like a welcome release. Isn’t escapism after all a big reason on why we go to the movies?
The Last Duel, inspired by the book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager, is about the last officially recognised judicial duel fought in France. Based on truth, without having any knowledge prior, I was bound for a surprise. A first glance, the film appears to be a hyper-masculine medieval flick. In fact, I was restless at the start due to the film feeling a bit slow. I even caught myself wondering whether The Last Duel was for me with all its testosterone, blood, guts, and glory. But then things started to get juicy. The clever narrative unravelled, and suddenly I found myself on the edge of my cinema seat.
The Last Duel consists of a talented cast with three main players: Matt Damon as Sir Jean de Carrouges, Adam Driver as Jacques Le Gris, and Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges. Although Ben Affleck does play a role on-screen, his role in the film is minor, more so a character to bat on one side’s corner than anything else. His role is far more defining as one of the film’s screenwriters along with Matt Damon and Nicole Holofcener. I suppose, if you are going into The Last Duel hoping for a lot of fun on-screen chemistry between Damon and Affleck, you’re going to be disappointed.
The Last Duel has its story told in three chapters. In Sir Jean de Carrouges’ point of view, through Jacques Le Gris’ eyes, and ‘the truth’ – Marguerite de Carrouges’ perspective. The film lingers long enough for you to appreciate the visually fantastic sets, costuming, make-up, and special effects, as well as the consistently equally impressive performances from all the actors, but it’s not enough for you to form an opinion on whether the characters are likable or not. The film instead willingly allows you to bear witness to these three different views of the same story, much like as if we’re being told everything during a court trial, only without the dialogue being directed at the audience, and shown in a ‘fly on the wall’ sort of way. We’re judging their actions, not who they are. It’s nothing what I expected honestly, but it’s smart storytelling and is super effective.
I must also address how gory the battle fight scenes are, which are both realistic and ridiculous, and I loved every moment of it.
The Last Duel may not be for everyone; however, I implore you that if you are even a bit curious about it, it is well worth a watch on the big screen. I definitely enjoyed this film and I applaud the writing and storytelling. Despite enjoying being taken back to another time, I’m relieved and thankful to not be a woman in the 1380s. The film is entertaining, captivating, fearless, and it conveys an enraging, shocking, powerful and surprising feminist message that everyone needs to hear. Yes, humanity have progressed a lot since then, but we’ve still got a long way to go.