The Last Duel – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
In cinemas October 15th
This is the film that Matt Damon was shooting when he found himself stranded in Dalkey as lockdowns were implemented in March 2020 (well as stranded as you can be in a luxurious mansion). Indeed, it has probably got more publicity due to that than anything else. That is until the less than glowing reviews from the Venice film festival came in.
Knowing that a film has already been panned doesn’t exactly fill a reviewer with excitement at the thoughts of sitting through some two and half hours of it and this was no exception.
Based on a true story of a famous medieval trial (yes that’s a thing) from 1386 where Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer), wife of knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) claimed to have been raped by her husband’s frenemy Jaques Le Gris (Driver) this tells the story from all three perspectives.
This is not a new way of telling a story, but it is a rather tedious one as you relive many of the same events with only subtle differences. What makes this method an interesting choice for this film is that while accounts exist of the real testimonies of both men, there is no record whatsoever of Marguerite testifying in the real-life trial or indeed her thoughts on any of the furore surrounding it so everything we see from her perspective is faction (fiction based around the few facts that exist).
Her character is pretty much a contemporary woman trapped in a misogynistic medieval world fuelled by male egos. Even her testimony in court is more akin to something you would see in CSI rather than any line of questioning ever presented in a court of that era.
Also, they have taken a lot of historical licence with the laws of the time including the punishment for women who made false rape accusations. This is unlikely to bother anyone who isn’t versed in medieval history but it does seem somewhat disingenuous to tell a historical tale and then try and make it fit into your contemporary post #MeToo ideal.
Comer is wonderful as Marguerite, she absolutely shines and brings extremely subtle nuance to each version of events. Without being too grandiose about it she acts everyone else off the screen. Damon is gruff and surly as her husband and seems to struggle with the more classical language. Ditto Driver (who thankfully kept his Star Wars wardrobe to recycle here) who, as the highly sexed and arrogant Le Gris, literally has pretty much one tone throughout the entire film. Meanwhile, Affleck, playing Count Pierre d’Alençon, clearly borrowed his look from Machine Gun Kelly and does a brilliant job of adding some comic relief. I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way – his character is shallow and feckless and Affleck plays him with wry humour which serves as a welcome respite from the rest of the heavy subject matter.
The battle scenes are epic as is the final duel itself. But you would expect nothing less than that from director Scott who knows a thing or two about staging sword fights. However, by the time the duel came around I really didn’t care which of them won as both men at the heart of the story were awful. I only found myself caring that Comer’s character was OK.
While I enjoyed it more than I expected (thanks to Comer) I found the film quite overblown. It spends far too long basking in its own glory instead of getting on with things and could easily have been 30 minutes shorter. This is not the sweeping epic that it aspires to be and will not go down as a classic. It is also unlikely to trouble awards season except perhaps in the technical categories. It’s worth watching, if nothing else, for the opportunity to spot the semi well known Irish actors shoehorned into supporting roles.