Greetings again from the darkness. This review comes a bit late in regards to last year’s release date, but one of the most fun things about the film was the veteran director’s response to it being one of the biggest box office ‘bombs’ of 2021. Ridley Scott’s blamed those of a certain age group, as he criticized millennials for being too attached to their cell phones to recognize an interesting, informative, and entertaining movie. Octogenarian Scott knows a bit about big budget films after directing such films as ALIEN (1979), BLADE RUNNER (1982), GLADIATOR (2000), PROMETHEUS (2012), and THE MARTIAN (2015), however we get the feeling that his reaction stemmed from ego, and overlooked the fact that older movie goers had not returned to the theater due to the ongoing pandemic.
Based on true events and Eric Jager’s 2004 bestseller, “The Last Duel: A True Story of Trail by Combat in Medieval France”, the script was co-written by Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck (the latter two being Oscar winners for their GOOD WILL HUNTING script in 1997). Damon and Affleck were initially set to co-star here, but scheduling conflicts forced to Affleck to take a lesser role, allowing for the addition of Adam Driver. The film opens in 1386 as Damon’s Jean de Carrouges and Driver’s Jacques Le Gris prepare for the titular jousting duel. We then flashback to a battle scene during the Hundred Year War featuring the two fighting alongside each other for France.
Utilizing a RASHOMON-inspired story structure, the film is divided into three “The Truth According to …” chapters: Jean de Carrouges, Jacques Le Gris, and Lady Marguerite. A sly use of chapter titles informs us which of these is considered the real truth, but this is 14th century history, so there’s always some doubt. And doubt plays a key role in the crucial conflict at the film’s core. Carrouges and Le Gris have a friendship initially, however where Carrouges is hard and withdrawn, Le Gris is more politically savvy – building a relationship with Pierre (Affleck), powerful cousin to King Charles VI. The friendship dissolves into a rivalry that culminates with Carrouges’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accusing Le Gris of rape. We see the three versions of this occurrence, leaving little doubt.
What stands out through most of the story is just how little power or standing women had during this time. It was a man’s world and women were treated as property, much the same as a plat of land. But the most ludicrous commentary on the times is the hearing that results in the King authorizing the Duel that will determine a verdict. If Le Gris kills Carrouges, then it is determined that Marguerite was lying and she will be burned to death. If Carrouges kills Le Gris, then his old friend will be considered guilty of rape. Either way is supposedly “God’s will”.
Harriet Walter is perfectly creepy as Jean de Carrouges’ mother, as is Alex Lawther as “The Mad” King Charles VI (age 15 at the time of the duel). I found Damon and Affleck to be distractions in their roles, but Ms. Comer was outstanding – believable in all aspects of the character. Ridley Scott delivered a realistic look to the film, and the brutality and visceral violence are true standouts, especially in the duel. Having the three perspectives worked well, and drove home the point of how delusional men were/are. Surprisingly, there is an undercurrent of contemporary attitude here, and for the most part, Mr. Scott was correct … it’s an entertaining film, even if it wasn’t technically the “last” duel.