• Release Date: 22/10/2021
  • Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
  • Director: Ridley Scott

The Last Duel, as the name would suggest, chronicles one of the last documented “trial by combat” between men that took place in 1386. Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) claims to have been raped by her husband’s former friend and Squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). Her husband, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), challenges Le Gris to a trial by combat after his efforts to get justice through courts is violently trampled by Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck).

Pierre favors Le Gris and values greatly what he gets from him in terms of administrative ability and help with the collection of tributes. On the other hand, he despises Carrouges for his insolent nature and the fact that Carrouges sued him twice for a piece of land. The film concentrates on the events leading up to the duel dividing it into three chapters, reflecting the perspectives of de Carrouges, Le Gris, and Marguerite, respectively.

The Last Duel is directed by Ridley Scott, a man who is one of the greatest directors of our times and one who is credited with making some of the most astounding films ever made. His last film about men riding horses and wielding swords was Exodus: Gods and Kings. While that film was underwhelming, it sure was a spectacular visual odyssey. Scott also directed Gladiator, a film that made Russel Crowe a household name in India, won 5 Oscars including Best Picture, and is still revered.

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Matt Damon is best known in India for playing the immensely popular action hero Jason Bourne in the Borne film series. He was also a huge hit with Indian audiences for playing a botanist stuck on Mars in Ridley Scott’s runaway hit The Martian. He is popular for playing various other characters including an awkward but talented thief in the Ocean film series.

Adam Driver is just beginning to get his hold on the Indian audiences but we do know him for playing the anti-hero Kylo Ren in the recent Star Wars sequel series and also for his phenomenal performances as a husband trying to cope with an imminent divorce in Netflix’s Marriage Story.

Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges in 20th Century Studios’ THE LAST DUEL. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Despite having such sensational talents and so much star power to pull the audiences, I watched The Last Duel at a theater here in Guwahati where there were not more than 10 people apart from me in attendance. I was pained at this low attendance simply because the film is a jaw dropping-ly good recreation of the events leading up to the duel and culminating in the most impactful and visually disarming action sequences that I have seen in a Ridley Scott film since Gladiator.

This is definitely a film for the grownups and it tells a story that is morose, desaturated, and very disturbing. However, the manner in which Scott approaches the story and the various aspects of it that he reveals through the rendering of the different versions of the same story from the perspectives of the three primary characters makes it even more unnerving and endlessly captivating.

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In Jean de Carrouges’ version of the story, he is a nobleman who did nothing but well to his friend, Jacques Le Gris. He even saved his life in battle. Le Gris, however, shamelessly seized a piece of land that was pledged to de Carrouges as part of his dowry when he married Marguerite. A land that his wife covets greatly and one that de Carrouges believes is rightfully his. Le Gris also seizes the captainship of a strategic position that belonged to de Carrouges’ father and after his death should have been handed over to him. De Carrouges agrees to forget all the wrong that his friend has done to him but after meeting his wife, the beautiful Marguerite, he does the unthinkable. Blinded by lust and drunk on his position of power, he not only rapes his wife but also tries to derail the judgment by using his power over Count Pierre d’Alençon.

In Jacques Le Gris’ version of the same story, we see a less patronizing picture of de Carrouges. As per Le Gris, he covers up for his friend multiple times and it was in fact him who saved his life in battle and not the other way around.

In his version, Le Gris is shown attaining power and position through his hard work and not just by flattery and palm pressing as suggested in the version of de Carrouges. The account of the rape as per Le Gris is very different and it is observed that Marguerite tempted and encouraged him to do what he ends up doing and also that she never seriously resisted his advances.

The third and final account of the story is that of Marguerite and in this account we see the two men for what they truly are. Both Le Gris and de Carrouges are painted as vile, self-obsessed, and dispassionate individuals who are guided and possessed only by their greed, lust, and tunnel-vision of what they believe they need in life. We see de Carrouges haggle over the piece of land that was already taken away by Le Gris as a tribute for the count with his to-be father-in-law. While he is at it, he holds off the wedding and there is a feeling that he might just call it off as his demands were not met as per the earlier negotiations. This shows us the hollowness of the man and how he was not as loving and respecting of his wife as was depicted in his version of the story.

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Similarly, we get to witness the brutal rape of Marguerite from her perspective and understand how much she protested and how she tried her best to avoid the predicament. This gives us an idea of how le Gris was blinded by his lascivious intent and saw in Marguerite’s action what he wanted to see. Even though she resisted with all her might, he took his overpowering of her as her consent for the act. We also get to see how de Carrouges reacted to the incident and how he at first took Marguerite to be at fault before his hatred for Le Gris got the better of him. De Carrouges flung himself into the fire of revenge not considering how his decisions and actions would impact and shape his wife’s future and may even result in her death.

Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, and Ben Affleck breathe life into their respective characters. I cannot emphasize enough the fact that all the three versions of the story would have been the same had the nuances in the rendering of the characters not been so different and effective. It is what makes the three stories so different and also makes us feel differently about the three characters with each passing version. It is what contributes to the intrigue in the narrative and ensures that there isn’t a single dull moment in the entire film. Suffice is to say that the performances of the film are its forte and the ensemble cast does justice to every character of the film.

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The action sequences of the film are limited but sensational. There is just one full-fledged duel and the rest are minor skirmishes that are there just to put forth a point. But all these action sequences are approached with such grit and realism that they leave a telling impact. The fact that each of these sequences is a result of heightened emotions and political and functional maneuvering only adds to its affectivity. The climactic battle between Le Gris and de Carrouges is outstanding. It is brutal, gory, and thrilling. Interestingly, Scott doesn’t go overboard in inducing otherworldly thrills into the action to make it more impactful. He just shows what might have conspired with ghastly realism.

The film’s visual appeal is immense. This is the kind of film that one needs to see on the biggest possible screen with the crispiest possible sound. This is the second time in as many reviews that I have used these words in this exact order and I have done it for the simple reason that it best describes how this film should be experienced. The mood and the setting of Medieval France are recreated in all its glories, splendor, eccentricities, and motifs. The settings are a character in this film and the mood and the topography add to how the director wants to make you feel in a certain scene. It adds to the discomfort and the overall morose nature of the tale.

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If this film remains in theaters after this Friday, I urge anyone reading this review to give it a try. It will be worth your time, money, and effort. It isn’t the kind of film that we get to see in theaters every week and it is definitely the kind of film that we should want to see more often in theaters.

In a world almost saturated with sequels, prequels, franchises, and superhero fare, The Last Duel is like a breath of fresh air, brimming with creativity, beauty, brutality, and finality. It is truly a cinematic experience more than just a story with three acts. It will make you feel uncomfortable and will leave you not necessarily with a bad taste in your mouth. This is definitively a [theatrical] must-watch for lovers of cinema.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

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