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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Dec 5, 2021



‘THE LAST DUEL’ is a historical costume drama from Director Ridley Scott, who’s turned 84 on November 30 and still a very active filmmaker. 

We best remember him for the iconic sci-fi films like “Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982) and “The Martian” (2015), the feminist road movie “Thelma & Louise” (1991), and the period action epic, “Gladiator” (2000), that won several Oscars including best pic and best actor for Russell Crowe. 

Right now, he’s directing yet another costume flick, a biopic on Napoleon Bonaparte, but he already has enough acclaimed films in his catalogue to insure that his cinematic legacy is fully secure.

Recently released are two of his new films, “House of Gucci” and “The Last Duel”, so it’s obvious he’s still truly very prolific in his old age. 

“Last Duel” is a mammoth historical drama that looks so expensive in its mise en scene and battle scenes, with a script co-written by the Oscar-winning team of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (for “Good Will Hunting” in 1997) with Nicole Holofcener of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” 

It should be noted that Scott’s first film is “The Duellists” that won the best debut film in the 1977 Cannes Filmfest or 44 years ago. It was set in France starring Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel. 

“Last Duel” is also set in France, based on the 2004 book “The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France” by Eric Jager which tells the true story of the last legal duel held in France in 1386.

The film’s structure is apparently inspired by the Japanese triptych classic “Rashomon”. It’s divided into three chapters told from the points of view of the three major characters. 

The first chapter is from Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), a brave knight respected for his skills in battle. 

Next is from Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), a squire who is Jean’s friend but becomes his foremost rival. The last is from Jean’s wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer, superlative, as always), the aggrieved wife. Affleck plays a supporting but pivotal role as the frivolous Count Pierre D’Alencon.  

In Chapter 1, we see Jean saving the life of Jacques in the battle of Limoges. They both swear loyalty to Count Pierre who’s been named their overlord by King Charles VI. Jacques quickly ingratiates himself to Count Pierre who favors him over Jean, who is having financial problems. 

Jean marries Marguerite de Thibouville and got a large dowry, but a big piece of land meant for him was given by Pierre to Jacques. He has to go to Paris on an important trip and returns to a distraught Marguerite who informs him that while he was away and she’s all alone, Jacques came and raped her.

 Knowing that Pierre favors Jacques, he goes to King Charles to challenge Jacques to a duel to the death and his request is granted. 

In Chapter 2, Jacques meets Marguerite and is immediately attracted to her. When he learns she’s all alone, he forces himself on her saying he loves her very much and that he knows he also has feelings for him. 

She protests, tells him to leave and runs upstairs but Jacques pursues her. He pins her down and takes her from behind. After violating her, he warns her not to tell anyone or her life will be in danger. 

In the last chapter, we see that Marguerite is not in good terms with her mother in law (Harriet Walker) who takes all their servants with her when she goes out even if Jean told her not to do so. 

Jacques’ servant tricks Marguerite into opening the door then Jacques barges in to rape her.  When Jean returns, Marguerite tells him what Jacques did but her mother in law tells her to drop her charges as it might threaten the life of Jean.  Jacques denies he raped her.

A trial is held and we see Marguerite is now pregnant. She’s humiliated by the lawyers during the trial, casting aspersions on her purity and dignity, derided by her own best friend, but she remains adamant in insisting she’s telling the truth. 

She’s even threatened that if Jean dies in the duel, then she too will have to be burned at the stake as it means she’s not telling the truth.  

The duel starts with a tournament where both Jean and Jacques are on horses ready to joust. They both fall to the ground and it then becomes a hand-to-hand combat with various weapons.

It’s bloody and brutal and very violent. Of course, we won’t tell you what happens but we’re very much satisfied with the outcome. The French then believes that whoever wins in the duel is the one speaking the truth!

As a whole, we’d say the movie is worth watching, but at 2 hours and 30 minutes, it’s just too cumbersome and seems overcooked. 

There are times when our attention starts to wander since many scenes are repetitive making the storytelling quite convoluted. 

They could have re-edited it to quicken the pacing. But the whole production is superlative, from the lavish 14th century production design to the costumes and the well crafted technical aspects made with great care and attention to detail. 

The film seems to want to address more complex and thought-provoking issues about court intrigues, male entitlement, the frivolity of men in power that makes justice quite elusive, and the precarious status of women during that patriarchal time where they are treated as just a piece of property. 

These are all somehow touched but not fully explored and what it leaves is the lasting bravery and determination of one woman who’s willing to stand alone in her quest for justice and truth. 

Matt Damon gives a strong portrayal of Jean who sees himself as a victim, a man whose real worth is underestimated by the count who’s so partial to Jacques. 

This is his second good performance this year after playing the role of a father whose daughter is imprisoned in “Stillwater”.  

Adam Driver is perfect as the scheming lout Jacques but we can’t help but smirk each time the women say he is handsome, because with his longish face, he looks like a horse and reminds us of Jack Palance who’s a great villain in the 50s and 60s. Driver is Kylo Ren and he fits it. 

Affleck also does well and seems to be having fun in his role as the bitchy blonde and hedonistic Count Pierre.

 But the heart of the story is Marguerite, who sees both Jean and Jacques for what they really are. She was wed to Jean in what is basically a business transaction and he uses her in bed pressuring her to give birth to an heir which can only happen, she’s told, if she’s enjoying having sex with her husband.

The duel scene maybe considered the climax of the movie, but the most horrifying scene is the rape of Marguerite, which is shown twice. It connects with the current MeToo movement about women being brutalized by men and later disbelieved of what they have experienced. 

And Jodie Comer (the ruthless assassin Vilanelle in “Killing Eve”) is very effective as the beleaguered Marguerite with her subtle nuances and modifications within each chapter. Her performance alone is enough reason to see the film.