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‘The Last Duel’ – Review

‘The Last Duel’ – Review


When it comes to the medium of cinema director Ridley Scott can be considered a master of the art form. A visual genius who builds the most incredible worlds for his audience to escape into returns to the big screen with the true historical story of The Last Duel, a compelling raw historical drama that is one of the greatest narrative stories I’ve ever seen brought to the big screen.

In 14th-century France, knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and his squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) are ordered to fight to the death after Carrouges accuses Le Gris of raping his wife.

Based on the shocking true historical event that rocked the French nobility of the 14th century to its core and which was documented in-depth in Eric Jager’s best selling book, The Last Duel is an epic medieval tale of power, perspective and the truth, and offers director Ridley Scott an incredible new world to bring to life on the canvas of the big screen. Here he resurrects to the exact detail of what the 14th century was like. From the cold and open woodlands of Normandy to the highly ornate castles of Paris to the open battlefield of the 100 Years War, Scott resurrects the Middle Ages up on screen and audiences will be spellbound with the visuals that he crafts. Equal parts beautifully ornate and stunningly raw, Scott is able to craft a fully fleshed out feudal system for audiences and every detail, from costuming to housing, vehicles and weaponry, is handled with exquisite care.

In this world, he introduces audiences to three incredible characters who include Matt Damon as Sir Jean de Carrouges, Adam Driver as Jacques Le Gris and Jodie Comer as Lady Marguerite de Carrouges. And all three are stunning in their roles. Adapting a screenplay written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, Scott utilizes a unique three-person perspective to reveal the story of this shocking and powerful narrative. Reminiscent of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, The Last Duel reveals the detail of its story in three chapters which showcase the brutal assault of Marguerite de Carrouges and the summary trial that leads to the famed duel. A duel that would be fought to the death and whose results would change the medical world forever. This structure and setting allow Scott to go to work and together with this terrific calibre of performers he crafts an engaging and thoroughly intense story that doesn’t let up for a moment.

Scott is truly at the top of his game with his work on The Last Duel and chapter by chapter, layer by layer, the complicated story of The Last Duel is revealed and you never know what’s going to happen next. The use of the characters three unique perspectives allows audiences to experience the story from different points of view and gives the performers a wonderful range in which to play and interpret the actions of the story. This narrative device of showcasing the plot from three different perspectives is incredibly clever on Scott’s behalf and allows him to draw out the tension of the film’s heated story.

Standing front and centre in The Last Duel is Hollywood superstar Matt Damon, and this is a performance and character, unlike anything we’ve ever seen him portray before. As French knight Sir Jean de Carrouges, Damon cuts a dark and intimidating figure. Best described as a warrior through and through, Carrouges is a brute of a man who is prone to a stern sense of self-righteousness and self-aggrandising behaviour. Obsessed with his standing as a knight and demanding of the respect that his title bestows upon him, he is a man who is quick to temper and who does not dwell on ideas of compassion. Damon’s performance and actions are incredibly blunt within the film and he portrays Carrouges as a man who shares a very direct relationship with his wife and whose actions are not those of a lover, but rather those of a scarred and battle-tested warrior.

On the other side of Damon as the villain of the piece is Adam Driver as Jacques Le Gris, a one time friend to Carrouges who finds himself in service and favour to their liege lord ahead of his friend, and who quickly becomes a thorn in his side. An ardent womanizer and cad, Le Gris has a taste for the finer things in life and his ‘man of the world’ vitality mark him out as a man apart in these times. Like Carrouges he’s a battle-tested warrior and soon his sights turn to his former friend’s pretty young wife, whom he desires to covet above all else. Driver gives an incredibly complex performance as Le Gris and his status as a monster is revealed gradually and he certainly presents a sinister and scary figure.

Providing a key level of support within The Last Duel and hastening the actions of the lead characters is Ben Affleck as Count Pierre d’Alençon, the liege lord to whom Carrouges and Le Gris must swear their allegiance to and he’s a deviantly despicable character. Possessing absolute power in the province of Normandy, Affleck’s Count Pierre is a wholly debauched narcissist who only exists to serve his basest desires and his playboy existence of women and wine make him a wholly scandalous character. As Count Pierre, Affleck steals every scene in which he appears and there’s a good dose of bawdy comedy thanks to his extremely over-the-top performance which gives The Last Duel a sense of levity and produces some unintentional laughs from the audience.

Bringing everything together in The Last Duel is the film’s primary female protagonist and heroine of the story Lady Marguerite de Carrouge who is portrayed in an incredible performance by the immensely talented Jodie Comer. Let it be heard that Comer is just flawless in her role in The Last Duel and her commitment to the character and her actions pay a grand sense of tribute to the true historical character of Marguerite and the courage she faced in the horrific ordeal that she had to overcome. Comer gives an incredibly complex and shifting performance as Marguerite due to the film’s unique sense of perspective storytelling and it isn’t until the final act where we see her come into her own within the story and it’s here that Comer excels in the part and completely takes control of the film.

Comer gives an incredibly layered performance as Marguerite and we get to see many different sides to her character. A dutiful wife who wants to become a doting mother, Comer is an exquisitely beautiful creature and perfectly compliments the gorgeous costumes that she is clothed in by Academy Award-winning costume designer Janty Yates. Comer is true to the historical character of Marguerite and portrays her as an educated, well-read and thoughtful woman who is dutiful and clever in the running of her estates and she makes a profound mark on the audience with her performance. The Last Duel is truly Jodie Comer’s movie and she is nothing short of exceptional, presenting the true story of a woman who survived a terrorifying event and who fought tooth and nail to claim back her respect and see justice done.

The Last Duel is a film that does not sugarcoat its raw story and Scott produces a picture that is not some fantasy of the Middle Ages but is instead a true representation of the gritty and dangerous reality of what life would have been like in the period. While modern audiences may have their own ideas of the concept of chivalry here it is merely an idea that is spoken, but certainly not practised and the reality of life is far harsher and colder. This is a time when power was exerted by the blade of a sword and Scott builds out a complex and interesting narrative shaped by political intrigue and an archaic legal process. Themes of justice and the truth do prevail within the story, but they are not delivered until The Last Duel’s shocking third act and are very much in keeping with the time period.

Alongside its rousing sense of historical drama, The Last Duel also brings to the screen the sheer brutality of medieval warfare. And Scott holds nothing back as the carnage reaches the silver screen. There is nothing pretty or stylized about the combat of The Last Duel, instead, there is just the hard-hitting ferocity of bladed combat in full force. Think of two rugby scrums smashing into one another with each man holding a five-foot razor blade in their hands while they savagely have at one another. This is The Last Duel in action and the final fight between Damon and Driver as Carrouge and Le Gris is of two animals going at each other with the choke chains pulled off. It’s bloody and dirty as they slam into each other and the idea of knightly honour is completely left off this battlefield. It’s a raw spectacle to watch and your heart will be in your throat the whole time as you clamber to see who comes out on top and what fate awaits for Marguerite de Carrouge.

The Last Duel is an exceptional piece of cinema built by a master craftsman at the top of his game. Colossal in scope, this is a film that honours the true history of its narrative and presents the truth of an incredibly courageous woman who shook a country to its knees in her quest for absolute justice. The Last Duel is a cinematic feat of pure amazement and should be seen on the big screen for maximum impact.

Image: 20th Century Studios