Ridley Scott is having a bonza year in 2021 with the release of The Last Duel and also House Of Gucci both receiving high critical acclaim and actually being rather darn good. Having a proclivity to create projects that have a great synopsis and opening to frittering away the ending as it seems he’s not quite sure how to end it (see Prometheus, Alien Covenant, The Counsellor, Exodus: Gods and Kings etc.). The Last Duel takes us back to territory not too far removed Ridley Scotts Gladiator. Bone crunching battle scenes and glamour in the grime of the period are back as Scott plunges into a historical drama that sincerely resonates in todays world.
Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) is a squire whose intelligence and eloquence makes him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Le Gris viciously assaults Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer), she steps 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.
Based on true events, we a re transported back to 14th Century France where Matt Damon and Adam Driver are brothers in arts battling on behalf of King Charles VI, sometimes not faring too well come to odds when the local Count Pierre d’Alencon (Ben Affleck, featuring possibly the most ridiculous bleach job in cinema 2021) drives a wedge between the two and triggers the events that follow and hit the tipping point when Le Gris rapes Marguerite. Scott pulls no punches throughout and the crescendo to the ‘last duel’ is particularly savage.
Told in a Rashomon style of three chapters, we witness the tale told from the perspectives of Jean de Crrouges, then Jacques le Gris and finally Marguerite. The Last Duel broods and simmers until the final chapter when the story truly explodes into life and all is revealed and the Culmination of the titular battle concludes.
The cinematography from Dariusz Wolski (News Of The World, House Of Gucci) is stunning. making the Dark Ages simmer with foreboding and the mud and blood, swords and axes looking more dangerous and fearsome as the era truly was gives the film an extra resonance.
But it’s Comer and Driver’s performances that elevate the film. You simply can’t turn away when the two are on screen either together or in their separate scenes. Comer in particular is astounding as the embattled and tortured souls of Marguerite, who simply wants her story heard and the truth to be exposed in a time when “The truth does not matter, there is only the power of men” is the simple truth. A theme that echoes through time to todays world, Scott pulls no punches and delivers a film that likely find a wider audience than it received at the cinema (Possibly due to the run time and other blockbusters on at the time i.e. No Time To Die) on Disney+.
If impailings and beheadings are your thing, the battle sequences of The Last Duel will not leave you disappointed. Nothing is left to the imagination as various people are left with severed limbs, blood gushes from every orifice imaginable and the bodes pile high. Think of the savagery of Gladiator fused with the brutalisation of Game of Thrones and then double it and you’ll arrive at The Last Duels much deserved 18 certificate.
Overall The Last Duel is spectacular at every turn. If your willing to sit your way through the 2 and half hour run time, you will be rewarded with one of the best dramas of the year.
The Last Duel is in selected cinemas now and available on Disney+ (Subscription required)