Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Nicole Holofcener (screenplay by), Ben Affleck (screenplay by), Matt Damon (screenplay by)
Stars: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer
It’s, perhaps, a bit ageist to acknowledge that Ridley Scott is 84 years old and still making movies with this much vitality, but rather than point out his age as the operative, I’d like to instead draw attention to the legend’s illustrious career before speaking on (one of) his latest works. Ridley Scott helmed two of the greatest science fiction films of all time in Blade Runner and Alien.
He essentially introduced Brad Pitt into American stardom with Thelma and Louise. He’s been nominated for best director 3 times and has 3 times as many movies in which he is deserving of that same accolade. Scott is a living master in every sense of the word. It’s not his age that is impressive. It’s his track record. An illustrious career showing no signs of halting in quality or quantity in his production, not to mention the literal hundreds of commercials he directs on a yearly basis, Ridley Scott is a true marvel in every sense of the word, and with The Last Duel, he may have made one of his best films to date. The Last Duel is an epic, based on a true tragedy, but told in a harrowing three act structure in which each piece of the puzzle reveals untold truths in perception.
Whereas lesser scripts may aim for cheap shocks in the subversion of individual subjectivity, The Last Duel entrenches itself in universal truths. It uses its framework ingeniously to build more specific portraits of the characters at its centre, not only to present how others see them in the often harrowing interpretations but also to present the ideal way in which they see themselves. The characters—the men specifically—bask in the pride of their storytelling and cement themselves as undisputed heroes of their tales, making the reveals in alternative perceptions all the more intricate. In the film, we are shown a period of time stretching over several years in which two soldiers once friends come to a decision to duel to the death for the honour of the lady Marguerite (Jodie Comer), Jean de Carrouge’s (Matt Damon) wife who has claimed a sexual assault against her person by Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver).
But again, though the film alternates perspectives to showcase the unreliable narrators, it is still a story of objective truths. It defines the men as characters in tandem with the world they live in: a place of boastful aristocrats more concerned with material property than emotional sincerity. And it defines Lady Marguerite as a woman far more capable than the pressurised confinements she is subjected to. The Last Duel is a film stuffed to the brim with violence, but in examining the wilful violence of men, it becomes readily apparent that nothing can ever be as boorish and barbaric as the world Marguerite must navigate. Though the film speaks powerfully and brutally about sexual assault, Marguerite is a woman whose very identity is assaulted long before men ever began putting their hands on her.
In terms of possible faults, the accent work—or more accurately, the lack thereof—may grate on some. The passage of time is often unclear, and the few uses of title cards to cue the audience as to years and locations feel arbitrary in its compromise to catch us up on the action. But the subtly in editing is triumphant and ingenious, drawing attention to the most minute differences in moments as simple as the way a slipper falls to the floor or which man walks first in a demonstrative stride to another.
The violence is bloody, carnage-filled, and chaotic with beautiful attention to detail paid in the stunning choreography that highlights the messy movements in even the most triumphant warriors. The performances are uniformly excellent, each of them taking on new specificity in their attributes over the course of the three-pronged story, but it is Comer who shines so brightly in the picture designed to idolise this innocent beauty only to subvert the expectation of her womanhood and give her agency beyond the comprehension of the men who aim to keep her in a trophy case.
The three perspectives so clearly established in the film by the three writers only speaks to further the audience’s understanding. Whether it is the symbolism of a horse misused and locked away, or the declaration of a man’s insistence that sexual violence against a woman he ‘loves’ is scorn against him, The Last Duel embraces its horror undertones. It uses the genre to liven its experience and reveal that not all is as it seems. 9/10