MOVIE REVIEWS

REVIEW: Brutal ‘The Last Duel’ movie a difficult watch despite big-name cast, epic scope

Oct 15, 2021, 8:39 AM | Updated: 10:05 am

SALT LAKE CITY — When you look at the cast list, writers and director of 20th Century Studios’ new movie, The Last Duel, you can’t help but take notice as it’s full of Oscar and Emmy winners and nominees.

Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Ben Affleck and Jodie Comer star in the movie. Ridley Scott directed it.  Damon and Affleck, who won an Oscar the last time they wrote a screenplay together (Good Will Hunting), wrote the script for this movie — along with Nicole Holofcener.

The trailer teases an immersive medieval tale of knights and combat, betrayal and vengeance, and all of that DOES happen. But it doesn’t prepare you for the weighty subject matter the movie explores, the brutal living conditions of the time (late-1300’s France), the fact that you’ll have to watch an on-screen sexual assault more than once, and the uncomfortable notion that for victims of those assaults, certain things appear not to have changed much in the past 600 years.

Parts of this movie were difficult to watch, and I need to warn upfront that the key plot point of The Last Duel is rape. It’s why the characters are having the titular duel. Though this film is based on a true story and I think making it difficult to watch was by the filmmakers’ design while trying to make a larger point, nevertheless, I wanted to make that clear before you go any further.

THE STORY

“The Last Duel” is set in 14th Century France. It’s based on a book written in 2004 by author Eric Jager and is purportedly a true story based on historical source materials about the last officially recorded and sanctioned duel to the death (officially known as “trial by combat”.)

The duel is between Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and Jacque Le Gris (Driver) over the honor of Jean’s wife Marguerite (Comer).  De Carrouges is a poor, but respected knight for the teenage King Charles VI. Le Gris is a squire who at one time was a close friend of de Carrouges, but the two become estranged when Le Gris is favored by Ben Affleck’s wealthy Count Pierre d’Alencon.

Quite a bit of the movie is spent setting up the world they live in: One filled with poverty, disease, taxes, class systems and war against someone or other always on the horizon. But all of it leads to what happens after de Carrouges returns home from a particular trip to Paris.

Marguerite tells him that while he was gone, Le Gris showed up at their home and raped her. But she has no way to bring an accusation against Le Gris without her husband’s help, as women had no legal standing and rape was actually considered a crime against the husband at that time.

Despite Le Gris and Count Pierre trying to make the whole thing go away, de Carrouges takes the case all the way to the King, who eventually decrees that he and his former friend will battle it out to the death, thus allowing God to decide who is guilty. But if de Carrouges loses and is killed, Marguerite will also be executed because, according to their beliefs, that means she was lying.

THINGS I LIKED

Each of the movie’s three acts tells the story from a different point of view. First is de Carrouges, then Le Gris, and finally Marguerite, so you see some of the same events multiple times. However, the filmmakers treat Marguerite’s third act point of view as the definitive truth. I found that to be a unique and effective method to show how the characters’ perceptions affected their actions.

This method also forces the viewer to consider, when you see how Marguerite is treated, how little some things have changed and how humiliating the experience can be for the victim. In Marguerite’s case, there was also the added stress that she would die if her husband lost the duel.

The stellar cast was great and is likely what will be the biggest draw for audiences.

WARNINGS

The Last Duel is deservedly rated R. The assault alone warrants an R-rating, but there’s other sexual content, nudity and strong language in the film as well. It’s also a Ridley Scott movie, and much like Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood, before it, that means plenty of violence and war-related blood and gore.

The biggest negative from seeing the same story from different points of view is that it, unfortunately, means you have to watch the assault on Marguerite twice, once from Le Gris’ point of view, then from hers. It’s difficult to do. It may be one thing to read about this attack in a book, but it’s very different to have to watch it.

I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who has actually been through something like this to watch it on the big screen at all.

Add to that the fact that it’s two and a half hours long, due in part to showing the story from multiple points of view, and in part to needing time to set the scene so the viewer can understand the stakes involved and the impact of the characters’ decisions.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I really struggled with how I felt about The Last Duel. For better or for worse, the movie was on my mind a lot for the next few days after seeing it.

For me, the strongest portion of the film was in the final third when we see what Marguerite is risking to bring this accusation, and also how everyone around her reacts to it.

But the valid issues the movie raises and whatever might be worthwhile to take from watching this film, in my opinion, were overshadowed by the graphic content that I thought went unnecessarily too far, too often.

That is why I personally can’t recommend The Last Duel for most people.

HOW TO WATCH

If you want to see The Last Duel, it is only available in theaters. No streaming access for the time being.

Interested in this movie? Watch the video at the top of the page for the full in-depth review & my final rating.


Hopefully you & your family found this review helpful! Andy Farnsworth is the movie and pop culture guy for the KSL 5 Today morning news show and also hosts the Fan Effect podcast for KSL NewsRadio. Check out some of his other in-depth reviews of movies and streaming TV series on KSLTV.com.

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REVIEW: Brutal ‘The Last Duel’ movie a difficult watch despite big-name cast, epic scope