Alex Reviews "The Last Duel"
“Nobody is a villain in their own story. We're all the heroes of our own stories” - George R.R. Martin
This quote seems to be at the forefront of Ridley Scott’s return to the time of The Crusades sixteen years after “Kingdom of Heaven”. However, do not be fooled by that sentence: “The Last Duel” is an incredibly different film.
Based on a true story in France that involves an accusation that is still debated to this day and used in teachings, Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) claims Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), a close friend of Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck), assaulted her when she was alone in the castle where she lives with her husband, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon). In classic “he said, she said” fashion, Le Gris denies the accusation, and in support of his wife, Carrouges challenges his former friend to a trial by combat in front of the King after being unsatisfied with D'Alencon’s ruling. It is a captivating story, but the real focus is how the accuser is treated while being courted by de Carrouges, during her ordeal, and throughout the judiciary process.
In one of the most creative ways I have seen in many years, “The Last Duel” is told from all three of its principal characters’ point of view. It is this unique style that even alters some of the most minor details throughout with surprising impact on the storytelling itself. One of the most intelligent details many fans may overlook is that while Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are two of the film’s writers, Nicole Holofcener was tasked with giving Comer’s Marguerite a true sense of female perspective for her “act” of the story. While Damon and Affleck perfectly set up the story of Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, Marguerite is perfectly written and acted by the Holofcener-Comer tandem. Do not be surprised if this performance from Comer earns at least award consideration and further establishes her as one of this generation’s most popular actresses. Both Driver and Damon execute the intricacies of their characters incredibly well for two distinctly American actors playing French nobility, but Ben Affleck is the only part that feels awkwardly out of place (yet not at all) as the pompous d’Alençon. It is as if he is trying to make up for not getting to go overboard with billionaire playboy scenes as Bruce Wayne.
Ridley Scott continues to show mastery over pictures with special locations and backdrops the way he has with “Alien”, “Gladiator”, and “The Martian”; however, the most important piece of “The Last Duel” is having the perfect people in the perfect roles behind the scenes. From art direction to costuming and production design, the crew here launches this film into subtle brilliance with slight changes to everything from “narrator” to another. (One key item to focus on will be the coloration associated to characters from one view to the next.)
While there is much to enjoy about “The Last Duel”, it is not a perfect film with pacing issues that although it fully allows the audience to feel the magnitude of the time commitment required to watch the complete runtime of 152 minutes, there is a delicate balance between need and want of scenes within it. I would have cut at least one prolonged scene from the end of the second act for story’s sake and I would also rearrange some later scenes to enhance the finish to avoid an ending that lands with a whimper (although this may have been the intent).
All things considered, The Last Duel would make a fantastic serial program. As a movie, it is superb experience, but even though it may be giving too much credit, I wonder if this is a theatrical evolution in the age of streaming as this film would be best experienced viewed in two parts, more easily divided than one might expect.