'The Last Duel' Review—Gripping Historical Drama
Ridley Scott, the master behind films such as Alien, Blade Runner, and The Martian, has two new movies in 2021. Before we see the scandalous real-life story of House of Gucci, Scott has another story to tell based on true events. The Last Duel is a historical drama that follows the last legally sanctioned duel in France's history as Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) claims to have been raped by Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). Her husband, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), challenges Le Gris to trial by combat, where if Jean loses, Marguerite will be executed.
This is the first time Damon and Ben Affleck have co-written and starred in a film together since Good Will Hunting, and this movie is a reminder of how well these two work together. They star in this captivating retelling of events that succeeds at nearly everything it wants to be. This movie provides what you want to see from a story like this while also putting a unique spin on the genre, staying enthralling in a type of film that could be tedious in the wrong hands.
Perhaps what makes The Last Duel stand out amongst other historical dramas is the structure of the story. The film tells the same story from three different perspectives. The first perspective is from Jean, the husband whose friend raped his wife. The second perspective is from Le Gris, the man on trial for rape. The final perspective is from Marguerite, and by putting hers last, it becomes clear that her word is the most important, and the minor details that make the same scene different from the perspectives of Jean and Le Gris allow for powerful storytelling. Although this movie is two and a half hours long, it usually doesn't drag because of how fascinating the characters are and what they're going through.
What will bring you into this movie beyond the story is the performances. This movie boasts a star-studded cast with material that allows them to take control of the screen and showcase their skill. Damon is fantastic as a conflicted man who the audience is supposed to root for but not like. Driver is magnificent in this role, where he must play a reprehensible, despicable character, and he does an incredible job. There are scenes where it is uncomfortable to watch him, primarily due to his pitch-perfect villainous performance and the writing for his character. Affleck's supporting role as Count Pierre d'Alençon is perhaps the movie's biggest surprise, as everything he says has an unexpected comedic layer to it. His delivery of every line is excellent, even if his screen time and effect on the story are limited.
But Comer is front and center, and she is phenomenal. She is sympathetic and captivating to watch in this dramatic role, communicating so many complex emotions without saying a single word. Her character is tragic on the page and riveting on the screen as the audience is fully drawn to support her quest to be heard and bring a sexual predator to justice. These performances anchor the story brought masterfully to the screen by Scott, one of the best directors working today.
It's a timeless tale about what happens when ignorance has power, and it deals with relevant issues surrounding women's rights and how difficult it can be to be heard by men who lack empathy. This movie is about a woman's fight for the truth, and the fact that she is at the center of every event that occurs despite not being part of the duel is exceptional. When the movie's final act features the duel promised in the title, it delivers the most intense sequence of the year, as the stakes are set up before the action kicks in, and they are high.
This is a gripping historical drama unafraid to show brutality, barbarity, and blood at every turn. It's not an easy movie to watch or enjoy, but it is an easy movie to appreciate for the unmatched talent on display.
Grade: ★★★★☆ [8/10, B+]
The Last Duel is now playing in theaters.