Written by: Adam Vaughn | October 13th, 2021
The Last Duel (Ridley Scott, 2021) 3½ out of 4 stars.
Seasoned director Ridley Scott returns to the director’s chair and brings his audience a captivating true story involving love and lust, ruthless battles, and a tale that unfolds in a way designed to reflect on the female role in the time of King Charles VI. The Last Duel, while a bit long, is an epic journey that bounds both forward and backward in time, capturing the points of view of a respected knight, a high-status squire, and a loyal wife. With a dynamic, anthology-style pacing and gritty battles, The Last Duel is an adventure worth experiencing.
Scott’s use three-act structure does the film justice. We start by witnessing the testimony of Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon, Ford v Ferrari) as he accuses his squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver, Marriage Story) of raping his wife Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer, Free Guy). Amongst the short and concise (often simple and routine) scenes of dialogue there are clashes of French soldiers toppling their enemies, and magnificent art direction fully portrays the subtle nuances to the time period.
The film’s second act tells the other side of the story, delving into the lavish and pompous lifestyle of squire Le Gris as he is taken under the wing of Lord Pierre d’Alençon, played to amusing satisfaction by Ben Affleck (The Way Back), who gets to flex an arrogant, high-status role once again. Continuing to capture hints of the time period, as well as the fun, lustful entertainment that d’Alencon and Le Gris enjoy, this second part juxtaposes both Damon and Driver’s characters, showcasing their personalities and differences. It also fully connects the accusation of rape, leading to the fateful duel (effectively hinted at in the opening scene to set the tone).
But the true specialty of The Last Duel is its third and final act, showing Marguerite’s account and saved for the end to shed light on the film’s theme of the toils of women in a time where their voices were hardly heard. Marguerite’s perspective drastically changes the viewer’s look at both de Carrouges and Le Gris and their personalities, bringing to life a vast truth that both men’s testimonies omit to save their reputations. Act III is truly where the story takes a dramatic turn, with a fantastic performance by Comer at its center.
At the film’s conclusion is an epic battle between warriors, and by the time we have sat through over two hours of dramatic testimony (made seemingly shorter by simple, almost-too-easy-to-follow writing), we are finally given the fight we’ve been promised, and to no disappointment. By the time we reach the battle, so much is at stake for the three protagonists, and even victory comes with its consequences. While I wouldn’t regard The Last Duel as among Scott’s more iconic works, I absolutely appreciate the director’s dedication to his source material, and the carefully woven story featuring great direction, art design, and performances from key Hollywood actors.