FlixChatter Review: The Last Duel (2021)

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I have a thing for Medieval stories. In fact, a few years ago, I was quite obsessed with the Wars of the Roses after seeing The White Queen miniseries. So when the first trailer of The Last Duel first came out, naturally I was intrigued! As a big fan of Gladiator, I know Ridley Scott can mount spectacular battle sequences so this is definitely right up his alley, but this time he tackles something that’s based on a true story. It’s worth noting that the film marks a reunion of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, both behind the scenes as screenwriters, as well as on screen as co-stars. The two besties collaborated with Nicole Holofcener in adapting Eric Jager’s 2004 book titled The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France. 

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For a film titled The Last Duel, obviously one expects a ton of gritty battle sequences and that is precisely what we get. The looks of the movie resembles to Scott’s 2010 Robin Hood with the steel gray tones that evokes a moody, atmospheric but also downright miserable feeling. Life was hard back then surely, with rampant bloody wars fought by power-hungry men. Jean de Carrouges (Damon) is always present figure in many of those wars–he’s the Medieval Jason Bourne with equal ferocity and fighting skills. On one of his rare off days, however, Jean meets Marguerite (Jodie Comer), the beautiful daughter of Sir Robert de Thibouville (Nathaniel Parker), a Norman lord who’s considered a traitor by some, as he’s gone against the French king in a few territorial conflicts. Given his financial troubles, marrying Marguerite would be beneficial as it comes with a rather sizable dowry which includes a desirable piece of land in Normandy.

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For a while Jean and Marguerite live a nice quiet life, that is until Count Pierre d’Alençon (Affleck) who somehow bears resentment towards Jean demands that he pays off his debt. Pierre sends his squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) to do his bidding, and soon Jacques practically becomes not only his party buddy but also his accountant. Despite having fought together in battles, there seems to be tension between Jean and Jacques, which only intensifies the more Jacques gains favors from Pierre.

The film’s title refers to the last legally sanctioned duel in France’s history, which took place following Marguerite’s claim that Jacques had raped her while she was alone in her estate. Out of anger, Jean challenges Jacques to trial by combat despite King Charles VI court’s warning that if he loses, not only would he be killed but Marquerite would also be burned alive as his loss is considered that her accusation is false. As I mentioned before, life was hard back then, but it’s even harder for women in Medieval times. The Last Duel is perhaps the first big-budget, Medieval ‘Me-Too’ film with a woman’s story at the center and her narrative is what drives the main events throughout the film.

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The film is broken down into 3 chapters to show different viewpoints from the three main characters, starting with Jean, Jacques and lastly, Marguerite. The multiple-chapters concept itself is intriguing, as it potentially allows viewers to immerse themselves in the story. However, the execution can also become a distraction. The way Scott sets it up here, at its best, it enables me to analyze the story from different angles. For example, when we see the story told from Jean’s perspective, he paints himself as a good guy who’s victimized by Pierre and Jacques. But once we see Marguerite’s POV, it’s apparent he’s no saint and that his sense of righteousness and entitlement is what brings him and his wife into the mess they’re in.

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At its worst however, this verbose narrative style prolongs the film’s already bloated running time and becomes annoyingly-repetitive. It doesn’t help matters that the way the most horrific scene is filmed is seen twice!! It’s bad enough that I had to see a woman being brutalized, but I feel that the way the scene was directed lacks sensitivity as it ends up glorifying the perpetrator in the act. There’s that term ‘the female gaze’ and it would have really been beneficial having a woman’s influence in filming THAT scene, especially the second time that scene is shown, which is supposed to be viewed from Marguerite’s perspective. I really think the scene should’ve been ‘seen’ from her eyes… putting the audience in her shoes as she experiences such a heinous act done to her, but instead we see the perpetrator’s face in the throes of ecstasy, twice! From a director who’s been said to be a feminist-ally (after all he gave us Alien and Thelma & Louise), I expected more from him in this regard.

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In terms of performances, Jodie Comer is a a standout amongst the mostly-male cast. Having enjoyed seeing her in the Killing Eve series and in Free Guy recently, she displays a terrific range as a dramatic actress. She’s got such strong screen presence and has the nuance and subtleties as Marguerite endures not only her husband’s callous insensitivity, but also the rejection from her own mother-in-law and girlfriends for coming out about being raped. The script does a good job showing the impossible situation women in the Middle Ages found themselves in when it comes to sexuality and their own bodies.

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As for besties Damon and Affleck, I actually find their casting (and haircuts) a bit distracting here. The fact that the script makes Pierre so unfairly mean to Jean seems amusing given that they’re best friends. I’m glad Affleck didn’t end up playing Jacques as seeing the two duel to the death (Batman VS Bourne) would definitely take me out of the movie! It’s amusing to see Affleck as a comic relief of sort, it helps to have some moments of levity given the sense of dread surrounds the movie. As for Damon, his physical prowess is on display once again with all the fighting scenes he got to do. He still manages to make it believable that he could tackle someone bigger and 13 years his junior like Driver.

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Speaking of Adam Driver, the prolific actor is no stranger for playing unsympathetic characters, but he takes that despicable factor up a notch here. His Jacques is the kind of man who has a warped sense of morality and entitlement, someone who thinks that even doing something as horrible as taking a woman by force is completely justified. Even amongst a long list of terrible characters he’s portrayed, I think Jacques is right up there. In fact, as a big fan of his, I’d say his performance here just might cure me of my infatuation with him, ahah. Of course that is a testament to his strength as an actor and his screen presence is undeniable.

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In terms of action, I’d say the 82-year-old filmmaker’s still got it and his direction big battle scenes are perhaps the best in the business. All the war and fight scenes have such a high degree of realism—Scott and his DP Dariusz Wolski stage those scenes in such a visceral way. I remember the rush of the Germania battle sequence in the opening scene of Gladiator, with the horses galloping and soldiers clashing into each other on muddy grounds with swords/axes clanging. I felt the same way watching the battles in this one, down to the vicious, high-stakes climactic duel to the death that takes my breath away.

Given just how much armors these two guys put on, under lesser direction it’d be like seeing two giant tin cans whacking each other. But the fight scenes are dynamically-choreographed where you can really see what’s going on and they’re fused with real tension and suspense. The costumes, set pieces and locations all help create an authentic depiction of Medieval France. Harry Gregson-Williams‘s music perfectly complements the look and events in the film without overpowering it.

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What you won’t find authentic would be the accents. Most of the actors use whatever accent they want, only Comer and a few of the British supporting cast actually speak with British accents. Apparently Comer helped Affleck with his dialect, while Damon and Driver sound pretty much like themselves with a few ‘British sounding’ moments few and far between. To be fair though, all of the characters are French anyway so even if they ALL sound British, it still wouldn’t be authentic.

Overall, The Last Duel is a competently-made film, but I couldn’t really give it high marks for the main issues I’ve mentioned, which I think detracts from the progressive female-empowerment theme. If you’re a fan of Sir Ridley or any of the cast, I still highly recommend this one. For sure, the epic action sequences did not disappoint and truly lived up to its title.

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Have you seen THE LAST DUEL? Well, what did YOU think?

18 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: The Last Duel (2021)

  1. I think I’ll wait for it on HBO or whatever as I’m not in a rush to see it though it is good to see Ben and Matt work together again as writers. Now let’s have them do Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season.

      1. Oh dammit, I forgot about the fact that he’s not here anymore. Shit… there will never be a sequel as I’m sure his character would’ve returned to help Will and also guide Chuckie in realizing that Chuckie too is smart but has been held back by the rich.

        1. Yeah I just don’t think it’d be right to have a sequel without Williams… it’d just be too sad. I saw a clip of an actor who did an amazing impersonation of him the other day that made me really sad.

  2. I’m still too distracted with the casting of three well known American actors, so I’ll probably skip seeing it in theaters. They should’ve cast unknown and preferably French or European actors for the roles. But I get that if Scott wanted to cast unknown actors then he wouldn’t have gotten the budget to make the film possible. Also, it doesn’t look like it’s playing at any of the premium theaters and being a snob that I am, I want to see it in 4k and hear it in Dolby Atmos.

    1. Yeah, I think casting European actors would make the story more authentic but as you said, it’ll be hard for Ridley to get the film greenlit.

      I’m surprised it’s not released in theaters w/ Dolby Atmos, the sound design is really good!

      1. I think MGM bought the rights to have No Time To Die playing at premium theaters for 2 weeks since this film isn’t be shown in any of premium theaters around here. Maybe in bigger cities, they have more theaters that equipped with Atmos.

  3. Oh no, I don’t want to be cured of my Adam Driver infatuation! lol. I really struggle with watching rape scenes and I had hoped this would be an off screen thing, but to hear it’s shown twice…sir, what #MeToo? I makes me hesitant to watch it.

    1. Ahah well, me neither! But I really struggle with watching rape scenes too, and even seeing ONE of those scenes is already one time too many! Adam is really good here, but THAT scene really bothered me. I totally understand your hesitancy, I had similar issue w/ Promising Young Woman for that scene towards the end, too.

  4. Wow.. you had a lot to say!! Medieval Times are so not in my wheelhouse of films that I like – and I’m not a Driver fan so there was that as well. I was confused some, angered a lot, and since I’m writing up my much shorter review as we speak.. I will just say I could watch an entire movie of Ben Affleck doing that character.. it was hysterical and truly the only part of the movie I liked. hahahahhahha it’s good having a lot of different thoughts tho and it’s good that everyone has different tastes as there has got to be something for everyone.

    1. Ahahaha, yeah I love period pieces so I actually like the film and all those battle scenes, apart from THAT particular me-too scene that should have been much more sensitively-directed.

      Unlike you, I’m not fond of Affleck in general but his character is indeed amusing here, if that’s the right word… it’s almost farcical! But hey the entire movie is kinda morose so it’s good to have a bit of levity. I LOVE Adam Driver but I can’t say I enjoyed seeing what his character did in this movie, I guess he’s THAT good of an actor to make me hate him so much in this film, ahah.

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  6. I really enjoyed this, which sounds wrong given the subject matter, but I was so drawn in by the same story being told by the different perspectives. I completely agree with you about how the pivotal scene should have been portrayed though, it was something I hadn’t thought about until now.

    1. Hey Allie! I actually enjoyed this film too, and I think I’d have given the movie higher marks if it weren’t for the way the second rape scene was filmed. I get why they show Jacques’ face the first time around but NOT when it’s supposed to be from Marguerite’s POV. Still Adam is SO good here, perhaps TOO believable that I abhor his character so much. Glad he didn’t win in the end.

      1. That last duel was so tense! Such awful things had already happened to Marguerite I wouldn’t have been shocked if she had a disastrous ending too but I was SO satisfied that not only Jacques lost, but after a few years Marguerite got her deserved happy ending.

        1. Yeah, that last bit of her living a serene life with her kid in the countryside just made me smile! If her husband hadn’t died in the war I’m not sure she’d have lived as happily.

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