The Last Duel is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
It sounded good when Ridley Scott announced he would be directing a medieval showdown between friends-turned-foes. And when Ben Affleck & Matt Damon announced that they would star in and write the script, it sounded great. And when the fantastic talent of Jodie Comer came on board, The Last Duel had to be a runaway success. Well, there is certainly a tragedy in The Last Duel, but it’s likely, not the one Scott, Damon and Affleck were intending.
When the distractingly styled Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) discovers his once-friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) has been accused of raping his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), he orders a duel to the death; the final legal duel in France. This sounds like a simple premise, yet the way it’s told is unnecessarily convoluted and more bloated than a hanged man after three days in the village square.
Many films find themselves saved by the edit, but this one is hung, drawn and quartered. Here Scott elects to tell the story not as a cohesive whole but through chaptered retellings, each from a different perspective; Jean, Jacques, and finally Marguerite. Jean’s chapter is discordant, jumping from one moment to the next. For example, we are in 1381 Paris one moment and 1386 Scotland the next. There is little cohesion to Jean’s story, as though the scenes were placed on the editing workbench, fiddled with slightly and left to render.
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Meanwhile, Jacques’ chapter is somewhat better, in part because Jean’s chapter seems to have been the entire setup. However, Scott decides to re-tread scenes already reviewed in Jean’s chapter verbatim. The result feels like soft, worn padding that only serves to create an epic bum-numbing runtime. Here Jean and Jacques are supposedly old friends-turned-foes. Yet, we barely see any part of their relationship or the events leading to their predicament, apart from a shoddily constructed opening fifteen minutes.
At the very least, Driver’s Machiavellian persona is far more engaging than Matt Damon LARPing on a multi-million dollar set. Driver’s best moments are often with Affleck’s delightful Count Pierre, partially because Affleck fully understands the assignment. His peroxide blonde boy-band hair and goatee are the stylistics of a foolish libertine, and that’s exactly what Pierre is. A hedonistic, bratty man-child, like Tyrion Lannister with far too much self-esteem, Affleck is genuinely one of the greatest players in this medieval drama because he’s a prick – but also feels like a real prick.
Watching Jacques’ perspective of the assault is when the retelling device entirely falls apart – Jacques’ actions, even from his perspective, still come off as rape. Sure, Comer isn’t screaming and crying at the top of her lungs – Scott saved that for the end – but it’s still clearly unwanted. What’s the point of installing these multiple narrators if their stories are ultimately the same? It’s only Marguerite’s tale that strays from the others.
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In another world, we may have been given a Comer-led medieval drama centred around her captivating independence, but this is all rather fleeting in reality. However, it’s Comer who once again outshines the rest of her cast, something that’s becoming a trend as she cements her place as a genuinely brilliant screen star. Unfortunately, however, not even Comer can rescue this film. And while one can’t help but feel there are the makings of a truly great adaptation, The Last Duel ultimately becomes a story of boys measuring their swords.
Of course, as a Ridley Scott film, the action is spectacular – soldiers’ arteries open like sprinklers on the battlefield, alongside the sound of armour shattering and shaking through violent collisions. And when the last duel finally occurs, it is admittedly a raw and rough brawl in the mud with an assortment of weapons. However, I found myself with little care for who came out on top. As either way, Marguerite was the loser.
The Last Duel is plagued by a sluggish runtime, with a simultaneously bloated-yet-undercooked edit to blame. However, it also lacks relationship development between its key players, and to put it simply, it doesn’t live up to its promises.