Ridley Scott’s historical epics have been rather disappointing, with 2014’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and 2010’s “Robin Hood” missing the mark.
Sadly, Scott’s latest effort, “The Last Duel,” doesn’t get in the win column.
“The Last Duel” is set in France during the 1300s and follows three characters, two of them being the knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and the squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), who served on the battlefield together. The third lead character is Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), Jean’s wife.
As fellow warriors on the battlefield, Jean and Jacques not only have respect between each other, but a friendship as well. The friendship begins to strain, though, as Jacques begins enforcing rules set by the local Count Pierre d’Alencon (Ben Affleck), which Jean finds unfair. The situation reaches a boiling point when Marguerite accuses Jacques of rape. As a result, the two warriors are set on a path toward a deadly showdown.
“The Last Duel” tells one story from three vantage points, with each member of the main trio having their perspective shown. The film first shows the situation from Jean’s view, followed by Jacques’s and finally Marguerite’s.
Ultimately, it’s far too respective, making the experience exhausting as the story resets two times. There are such minor differences at play that a viewer wonders why one has to sit through the same experience again and again.
The film just starts to feel monotonous by the time it gets to the third act, which is supposed to be the picture’s strongest segment.
Additionally, while playing with the same story through different perspectives is a fine idea, it feels out of place in this picture. The style can be effective, but it’s definitely a tight-rope and each character’s perspective should be equally important.
With “The Last Duel,” though, far too much time is given to the perspectives that really shouldn’t be taking center stage. Eventually, the movie tries to make a feminist statement, yet the character whose journey should have been the main focus of the picture is practically benched for two thirds of the film.
It’s understandable that the creative team wanted to portray how dominant the male narrative was, and has continued to be. The problem is, instead of acting as a sort of call out on both Jean and Jacques for their problematic perspectives, most of the picture seems to be building toward the final fight.
As a result, “The Last Duel” comes across as being more of an ode to swords and shields action than about the emotional turmoil women have to face after an assault. Speaking of which, because of the multiple perspectives, audiences have to watch the rape happen twice.
All of this is a shame, too, because the movie looks splendid. Director Ridley Scott certainly knows how to make a movie well, with good examples being 2015’s “The Martian” and 2007’s “American Gangster.”
From a technical perspective, that continues here. Scott and his crew do tremendous work in bringing the 1300s to life, with fantastic set, production and costume design. The cinematography is also on point for the whole runtime. There’s no question about the quality of craftsmanship.
The acting is questionable, though. Two of its biggest stars, Damon and Affleck, give disappointing performances. Affleck feels out of place as an overly flamboyant lord to the point it’s hard to take him seriously, while Damon’s portrayal mostly boils down to having a scowl on his face for most of the picture.
Driver, though, is pretty good. He’s convincing in portraying a character from that period and displaying Jacques’ arrogance in knowing the movers and shakers of the world will take his word over Marguerite’s.
Giving the best performance in the film is Comer, who does solid work in capturing the trauma her character goes through. She is by far the standout in this production.
“The Last Duel” has the appearance of a great medieval epic but it falters in too many ways. The film’s approach to storytelling ends up being a detriment and its focus on the two male leads for most of the picture removes nuance. It earns points for its how it looks, but not how it makes one feel. 2.5 out of 5.