Based on true events that happened way back in 14th century France, The Last Duel is indeed about the last trial by combat held in France. But despite what is shown in the trailers for the film, this isn’t much of an action picture and the actual duel doesn’t occur until much later in the two and a half hour screening time. (Don’t get me wrong. There is definitely a duel and it is violent.) Instead, this is very well-made movie that not only serves as a history lesson but also a lesson in morality as well. And sadly, as much as our world has changed since then, some things remain the same.
Filmed in both France and Ireland, Ridley Scott was able to bring this ancient medieval tale to life and was able to bring the best out its stars who are all better known for their work in contemporary settings. After a short montage of scenes that sets up the story, The Last Duel begins around the year 1386 C.E. during the Hundred Year War with England. Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) watch each other’s backs on the battlefield and good friends when off of it. Jean was known for his bravery and at times for this reckless behavior during battles. He also had a sharp tongue which often got him into trouble. Jacques was on the other end of the spectrum with his eloquent speech. Apparently the women also found him attractive as well. It was these differences that caused Count Pierre d’Alençon (a blond Ben Affleck), to show Jacques favor and then roll his eyes toward Jean.
After a rift that eventually broke Jean and Jacques’ friendship, Jean married Marguerite (Jodie Comer) while Jacques remained single. Eventually, the two reconciled their friendship before things went south again. After returning home to his bride after being on the battlefield, Jean is shocked to learn that Marguerite had been attacked by a man. She blames Jacques which leads to the duel, but the story isn’t so cut and dried.
Smartly, Scott tells the story from three different points of view. The first being from Jean’s as a man who struggles with a reputation that has been damaged. The second from Jacque’s view who denies that he attacked Marguerite. And the third view from Marguerite who will be vindicated if her husband wins the duel but will herself be put to death if he loses. The theory is that God will expose the truth by the outcome of the battle. (I don’t get the impression that this was the belief of the clergymen at the time as the priest in the movie is the only one who makes any sense. It is refreshing to view a man of the cloth on the big screen doing something right for a change.)
Watching the film feels a bit like a bait and switch scheme where the movie one thinks he is going to see turns out to be something completely different. But you don’t mind. There’s a real important story here that needs to be told. I noticed that one reviewer has called the movie a story about a “medieval me too movement” and this is pretty accurate. Even the women of the time are cruel to Marguerite accusing her of having an affair rather than being raped. Some even tell her that she should have stayed quiet. She becomes a victim over and over again.
Despite its long screen time, The Last Duel is surprisingly gripping, though witnessing repeats of some of the same scenes up to three times does get a little grueling. Comer’s acting doesn’t appear to be anything special until it is time to share her view of the story. That is where she shines. As for Driver, this is some of his best work. (I could never take him seriously in the Star Wars films, but he is in his element here.) As for Damon, he does alright and Affleck is a bit too smug. Perhaps that has more to do with the awful character that he plays here who was quite possibly just as big of a jerk and self-absorbing in real life.
All in all, this is film that ends on a sober note finishing a story that every young man should witness.
Main Image: 20th Century Studios
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.