Historical epics are not my cup of tea, but I was drawn to The Last Duel by the all-star cast of Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck. They do not disappoint, nor does the female lead Jodie Comer whose character propels the 14th Century #MeToo narrative. The action is still too brutal and bloody for my taste, and the structure dictates we live through some uncomfortable scenes multiple times, but the fact that it is based on true events makes this centuries-old story a bit more accessible. It’s impossible not to view it through a modern lens and wonder how a similar scenario would play out today — you know, when duels to the death aren’t really a sanctioned thing.
As the story goes, France’s last-sanctioned duel– between friends-turned-bitter-rivals Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Driver)– came to pass after Le Gris allegedly raped Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Comer) while hubby was out of town. Against all odds, Marguerite refuses to stay silent about the brutal attack and tells Carrouges what happened. Carrouges is no saint, but he does support her claim and seek justice through the King’s “court”. When all else fails, he challenges Le Gris to a duel. Le Gris, by the way, claims any hanky-panky was consensual and pleasurable to both. For reasons that I will not spoil, Marguerite’s fate is tied to the outcome of the duel. And it’s a grueling– and I mean grueling– fight to the death.
What makes the film unique, and long, is the same timeframe is played out three times, from the perspective of the three main characters. We get “The truth” through the eyes of Carrouges, then Le Gris, and finally, Marguerite. All culminating in the prolonged bloody duel and a final scene that I found rather odd, though at least I didn’t have to cover my eyes for it.
The film is directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, The Martian, Black Hawk Down), no stranger to epic films, historical and otherwise. Damon and Affleck were co-screenwriters alongside Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) who penned the perspective of Marguerite.
Affleck’s character doesn’t get his own arc, but he gets plenty of opportunity to be a scene-stealer as a quirky blonde playboy Count, Pierre d’Alencon, cousin of the King and a prime provocateur of discord between Carrouges and Le Gris.
The Last Duel combines history, action, vengeance and a powerful story of one woman’s brave pursuit of justice in a time where women were treated as property.
The Last Duel hits theaters October 15. It is rated R and runs a hefty 153 minutes.