'The Last Duel' Is an Acting Masterclass from Jodie Comer Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
Published Oct 15, 2021At first glance, Ridley Scott's latest film recalls one of his most successful movies: trading in the sword and sandals of 2000's Gladiator for chainmail and bad wigs, The Last Duel looked to be a medieval French epic. And while there are some expertly shot and performed battles, The Last Duel 's main focus is social commentary on sexual violence and the frailty of male ego.
Set in 1386, The Last Duel is an adaptation of Eric Jager's book of the same name, telling the story of France's last legally recognized duel. This trial by combat concerns the rape accusations of Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) against Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). The duel itself is between Jacques and Marguerite's husband, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) who initiates the fight as an appeal against the initial ruling in favour of Le Gris by Count Pierre d'Alençon (comically played as borderline Bostonian by Ben Affleck).
The film is told in three parts: from the perspective of Jean, Jacques and, finally, Marguerite. It's a story structure inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon and used effectively in showing the plight of sexual abuse victims.
Beneath the terrible mullet, Damon plays the role of an entitled man consumed with hubris. Jean's incompetence and self-aggrandizing nature are used to great effect, complementing both Jacques and Marguerite's characters and storylines.
Apart from Marguerite, Driver's Jacques is perhaps the most interesting character. A man who believes himself to be in love, and yet as a product of his times, believes Marguerite's protests to be "customary" in practice. Driver plays these complexities masterfully, balancing vulnerability with sheer arrogance. Everything Jacques has been taught to date about women and sex leaves him perplexed at the accusations levied against him. And while the film is set in 1386, it isn't hard to see the parallels writers Affleck, Damon and Nicole Holofcener are drawing to today.
The brightest star of The Last Duel is without a doubt Jodie Comer. Coming off a comedic turn in Free Guy, Comer's performance in The Last Duel shows off her versatility and is a masterclass in acting. Beginning as a meek new bride, Marguerite's growth into a woman who stands her ground — not just to her husband and mother in law, but also to society at large — is affecting and enduring. Comer reaches into every emotion and comes up with a well-rounded performance that is at once heartbreaking, inspiring and joyful.
The Last Duel is a return to form for Scott. The cinematography, production and sound designs come together to create a visceral medieval world. And as would be expected from Scott, the duel itself is excellent. The fight choreography is graceful and gruesome, bolstered with just-frenetic-enough camerawork.
What makes The Last Duel stand apart from period pieces made today is its unwillingness to apply a 21st century lens to the past. Rather, the film languishes in the mistaken attitudes and odd behaviours of the past, leaving it to the audience to understand how misguided society was and, in many ways, continues to be. (Twentieth Century Studios)