In theaters Oct. 15
Dec. 29, 1386. A cold winter day finds knight Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) fighting a duel to the death with fellow Knight Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver).
Both men were once comrades in battle, but fortune, personalities and goals have driven them apart. When de Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses Le Gris of rape, de Carrouges now has the moral foundation to settle all the scores between he and Le Gris. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Margeurite, the victim, the duel also puts her life at stake.
“The Last Duel” is marketed as a tense period piece as we witness lances ricocheting off shields and swords piercing armor, but this film is much more than that.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have once again teamed up as screenwriters with the help of Nicole Holofcener to create a layered story based upon true historical events.
Damon’s de Carrouges is a battle-worn squire who lives his life like he fights – straightforward and with little nuance. He speaks plainly and honestly regardless of the consequences, allowing his emotions to get the best of him. Le Gris, also a squire, is adept at playing the political game building a friendship with the king’s cousin Pierre d’Alencon (Ben Affleck). Le Gris’s successes with tax collecting and bonding with Pierre garners him land, influence and power – to the point where he thinks he can get away with rape.
Director Ridley Scott brings a sobering, brutal story that offers all three perspectives – Jean de Carrouges, Le Gris and Margeurite. As each perspective plays out, we gather the truth about each character, how they see themselves and how others see them.
Writers Damon, Affleck and Holofcener bring us a story built on the blood and pain of history. Using less-stilted dialogue brings audiences more thoroughly into the story. And although the film does drag a bit in the second act, the three perspectives are a smart convention to outline the fact that sometimes, truth is in the eye of those in power. One can smell the stench of unwashed bodies, the dirt and grime mixed with blood and the power of the ruling class.
As de Carrouges forces Le Gris into a corner, audiences then discover the true brutality of the times as Margeurite is told what her fate will be “if God proves her accusation false . . .”
This edgy film beautifully mixes modern themes of class struggles, sexism and perspective into a historically accurate tale of deception, lies and death. Damon and Affleck are also smart in casting Affleck as Pierre. Having the two play both leads would have ruined this intriguing narrative with casting choice distractions.
Damon gives a strong performance as de Carrouges, sporting scars and a quick temper as a secondary weapon. Driver is a wonderful villain. His charms move the women, but we know his true nature and thus, quickly fall on Margeurite’s and de Carrouges’ side. Affleck’s Pierre d’Alencon is a spoiled, arrogant ruler more concerned about his debauchery than he is running a fiefdom. Affleck gives a memorable performance.
“The Last Duel” is a worthy saga showing the political, social and emotional perspectives of a historical event. Coupling good writing, directing, cinematography and acting creates a remarkable story that we won’t soon forget.