The Last Duel

The Last Duel ★★★★½

Seemingly rejuvenated after a four year sojourn into advertising and TV, King Ridley once again lays siege to cinemas by making his take on Rashomon, and by making the version of Rashomon most people have in their heads when they learn about who Akira Kurosawa was and that one of his films was a movie about conflicting accounts in feudal Japan. That was a 90 minute movie set in a patch of woods, this is a two and a half hour decades spanning lavish epic. 

It’s primary goal is to explore the genesis of modern public speaking out against sexual assault and in doing so feels shockingly relevant to today. It’s not that things haven’t changed, they have, it’s that maddeningly some things haven’t changed at all. Some of the insane rhetoric spoken in this film still exists today. 

The modernity of the story is particularly telling from Adam Drivers middle chapter, how rape culture festers into a real sense of entitlement to a woman’s body. Drivers Jacques De Gris spends his time at lavish orgies hosted by Ben Afflecks ridiculous Count Pierre, simulating rape and having rough uncomfortable sex with the party girls. When the central rape scene comes, De Gris is so conditioned by his entitlement he’s blind to Lady Marguerrites objections.

One aspect of the current MeToo era we’re living in this movie tackles, and one I’ve been loudly critical about is the whataboutism and the creepy white knighting from certain men. Matt Damon’s Jean De Carrougues spends the first act of the film as the traditional noble knight. But as we progress we see his nobility is exposed as entirely self serving and he too is a rapist by any other name. 

This might be the angriest Ridley Scott movie I have ever seen, Alien Covenant comes close, but with the latter, it’s more of a self aware joke. He’s not trolling here. The POV’s are broken up into chapter titles, The Truth According To _____. For Jodie Comer’s chapter the According To faded away, leaving only The Truth, harshly judging the story as it has been unfolding. 

Jodie Comer absolutely deserves Oscar nominations for this movie. I could see this whole thing being an awards darling. But it’s Comer and Ridley that should unquestionably get the recognition. Comer is fierce, playing three distinctive, but only extremely subtly Lady Marguerittes throughout the films. She commands the screen as the unabashed heroine when her perspective comes. That she outshines Adam Driver and Matt Damon, shows how great she is, 

It’s a horrible story, full of horrible people, so Ben Affleck shows up to clown himself as a campy libertine douchebag as comedy relief. Once again Ridley Scott woefully miscasts Batman in a historical epic, only for Batman to pull through turn in a great performance. It’s easy to picture someone like Christoph Waltz chew the scenery in this role, but Affleck plays it with all the energy he displays in that paparazzi pic where he’s smoking through the pain of existence and it makes it even more hilarious. 

It’s refreshing to sit inside a theatre and experience a big budget adult drama. This is a gorgeous film as to best expected, it’s bleak and grim in its visual rendition of medieval France in the winter, think the French book ends in Kingdom of Heaven, only in the films final moments do we get some relief. As bleak and oppressive as the films visuals and story are, ordinarily an upbeat ending would feel like a cop out. But even so Jodie Comer’s final moments in the film feel absolutely earned, thankfully history turned out pretty ok in this situation and let us have a happy ending.

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