Few directors are as prolific as Ridley Scott, a filmmaker intent on creating something epic every time he steps behind a camera. And while Scott’s film catalog speaks for itself with widely acclaimed hits like Gladiator, The Martian, Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise, etc … (we could go on for days), he’s also a visionary that’s spent his entire career reliant on the words provided by the many gifted screenwriters he’s collaborated with for all of his films. This time around, Scott finds himself immersed in yet another epic period piece, The Last Duel, which is penned by the trio of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who are joining writing forces for the first time since their Oscar-winning script for Good Will Hunting, and the talented Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?). With so many stars involved in every facet of the film, expectations should be high and, thankfully, Scott and company do not disappoint.
Set throughout the late-1300s, The Last Duel follows a pair of French soldiers and friends, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), who return from battle only to have their lives diverge on very different paths. Carrouges struggles financially and is forced to earn money by repeatedly fighting for his King Charles VI. Conversely, Le Gris cozies up with the King’s cousin, Lord Pierre (Ben Affleck), becoming his trusty sidekick and immediately living a bourgeois lifestyle. As Le Gris does the bidding of his Lord, which often comes at the expense of his friendship with Carrouges, tensions between the two men finally reach a boiling point when Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer), accuses Le Gris of rape. The medieval response is to have these two men duel to the death, with the belief that God would only allow the person telling the truth to win the battle.
Ridley Scott’s latest epic utilizes a three-chapter narrative structure, each of which follows a different character’s unique perspective of the film’s events. Such an approach can cloud the truth for audiences, as subtle differences in each person’s recollection inevitably cast themselves in the best light possible. This can often be a frustrating method of storytelling in certain instances, but The Last Duel’s three scribes, Damon, Affleck and Holofcener, keep the inconsistencies small and make their vision clear enough to easily enjoy this format. In fact, The Last Duel grows more interesting with each new vantage point, easing what could have otherwise been a strenuous running time that journeys north of two-and-a-half hours. Consequently, the film is at its finest during Holofcener’s powerful third act, which is told from the perspective of our victim, Marguerite de Carrouges, and one that Scott purposefully captions as “the truth”. It’s here where you’ll catch yourself playfully laughing-off the outdated discussions of 14th century beliefs regarding women and “science”. Yet, this mocking tone shifts quickly to a cringe-worthy realization of just how little progress we have made as a society in our attitudes to women in general and especially as victims. Scott and his trio of writers brilliantly show a scarred woman whose life rests in the hands of the same two men who have contributed to these physical, emotional and psychological wounds, and all she can do is sit idly by as a spectator in a man’s world. The Last Duel offers no shortage of poignant social insight without being overly preachy, serving as a true testament to the great value found within Scott’s latest epic period piece.