The Last Duel (2021)
The Last Duel Synopsis
The Last Duel is a cinematic and thought-provoking drama set in the midst of the Hundred Years War that explores the ubiquitous power of men, the frailty of justice and the strength and courage of one woman willing to stand alone in the service of truth. Based on actual events, the film unravels long-held assumptions about France's last sanctioned duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, two friends turned bitter rivals. Carrouges is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Le Gris is a Norman squire whose intelligence and eloquence make him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Carrouges' wife, Marguerite, is viciously assaulted by Le Gris, a charge he denies, she refuses to stay silent, stepping forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God's hands.
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The Last Duel Theatrical Review
It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. When someone in the United States claims to be the victim of rape, they are guilty until proven innocent, enduring endless scrutiny of their behavior, their clothes, etc. In 1380's France, women were probably considered third-class citizens who could not speak out if they had been wronged and were burned alive if they were shown to have committed perjury. Of course, over 700 years ago, disputes were often settled by duels with the loser considered to have been lying and struck down by God.
In 1386, Marguerite de Carrouges (Julie Comer; Free Guy) accused her husband, Jean's (Matt Damon; The Martian) friend, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver; Marriage Story) of forcing himself on her and raping her. Since women had no say and were generally encouraged to remain silent, Jean had to accuse Jacques of the crime.
In the past, disputes were often settled by a duel, but the practice hadn't been used in decades. Therefore, when Jean challenged Jacques to a duel it sent a shockwave throughout the land. Basically, it was assumed that God would smite the liar, and if that turned out to be Jean, not only would he die from his wounds, but Marguerite would be burned alive, leaving their child an orphan. Based on a true story, the duel between Jean and Jacques was the last legally sanctioned duel in French history.
The three main actors, Damon, Driver, and Comer are well cast and turn in excellent performances. Driver, who is great in pretty much any role he takes, gives Jacques an air of seriousness while portraying him as almost childlike in his sillier moments. Comer brings an intensity to Marguerite that gives her strength in terrifying moments. Damon is not bad as Jean but doesn't command the screen like Driver and Comer. Actor Ben Affleck (Argo) offered one of his worst performances that often made him the punchline to a funny joke but not in a good way. Plus, whoever thought it would be a good idea to have him donning yellow, blonde hair should have been fired, as the color was distracting and accentuated Affleck every time he was on screen, which in this case, was a bad idea.
Director Ridley Scott (Alien) utilizes his trademark visual style to bring medieval France to the audience and make them feel as if they were transported there themselves. His typically slow pacing is evident at the beginning of the movie, but it does pick up partway through and holds the viewer's attention. His action sequences are well-choreographed without seeming to be overdone. He creates a unique balance that offers a little something for everyone to enjoy and, of course, his pictures of the French countryside are majestic. Having been a filmmaker for over four decades makes Scott versatile while maintaining a certain feel to his films that make them easily recognizable as his work.
Scott also surrounds himself with talented people and it is evident in the costume designs and the set decorations. Beautiful dresses and intricate armor help set the mood along with dark hallways illuminated by candlelight as would have been found during that time period.
Being able to watch the same story from three very different perspectives was thought-provoking and a stark reminder that there are three sides to the story.... yours, theirs, and the truth. It is also intriguing to think about a woman accusing a man of rape in 1300's France.
While not much has changed in 700 years with the attitude of victim-blaming in rape cases, technology and civilized culture have drastically altered how these crimes are investigated and resolved.
Though The Last Duel has a little bit of a medieval "soap opera" feel to it, it is entertaining and offers enough to draw varied audiences to the theaters.
-- Allison Rose
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