Photo By: Noah Nickel via IMDB
The Last Duel is a visceral period drama based on true events starring Jodie Comer, Adam Driver, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck. Set in 14th century France, it has a confusing array of vaguely old-timey accents which take away from the sets and costumes that seem to be striving for period accuracy.
This is a film with huge, loud, and bloody fight scenes that are enhanced by the experience of seeing it in the cinema. It also has a great deal of plot-heavy dialogue that is easy to get enraptured with on the big screen. The number of animals in the film is impressive; there are sheep, goats, cows, horses, and dogs, which are used to add a layer of realism to the world, and perhaps to show off what a large budget it had.
The level of detail that went into these shots is contrasted by the CGI buildings which sometimes look like they came right out of a video game. On the production side of things, the film wobbles between realism and asking the audience to suspend their disbelief a little too much for a project of this scale.
It tells a story from three different perspectives, separated into chapters, with each one beginning with a screen that reads “The Truth According to…” and then the character’s name. First it is Jean de Carrouges (Damon), then Jacques Le Gris (Driver) and finally Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer). The title screen for the final chapter reads, “the truth according to Marguerite” and slowly all of the text fades away save for the words “the truth.” It is a film that interrogates how narratives are shaped based on who is telling them, with an emphasis on the complicity between men in brutalizing and oppressing women.
Comer gives by far the most outstanding performance in the film. She plays Marguerite as feminine and docile when she is in the chapters told from the perspective of the men. When it is finally time for her perspective, the performance is nuanced, displays a deep understanding of the subject matter of the film, and moves through the vast range of emotions Marguerite experiences.
Driver delivers an effective performance as well; he moves between charming and slimy with ease and his physically imposing figure makes him an excellent casting choice opposite Comer. Damon is one of the producers of the film and is fine, not outstanding nor horrible. An interesting choice from the make-up department that is worth noting; Jean de Carrouges has a scar which is less noticeable in the chapter from his own perspective, but makes him look more threatening and uglier in the chapter from Marguerite’s perspective.
The central theme is introduced by Harriet Walter as Nicole de Buchard in the trailer,
“The truth does not matter, there is only the power of men,” she says to Marguerite with the conviction of a woman who has been silenced her whole life.
The question that keeps coming up when thinking about this film for me is “was it worth it?” It successfully does everything it sets out to do, but at what cost? And for who? It is a film about violence against a woman told with sympathy towards her, but told by men, and at times it feels as though it was told for men as well.
This is the one thing about the film that doesn’t work, it makes a point and makes it well and resonates with current issues, especially the #MeToo movement, but it doesn’t feel necessarily worth it. It offers commentary on a very current issue that uses a historical lens to alienate audiences from it. There are more successful narratives dealing with the same themes.
If historical dramas are your thing, this movie is great for you, but if you’re looking for something groundbreaking and original, The Last Duel isn’t it.