On paper, The Last Duel had a lot going for it. Obviously, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Adam Driver are major draws due to their established talent.
Jodie Comer, if you’re not familiar with her, is brilliant in Killing Eve, and I’m very happy to see her transitioning into major motion pictures.
And, of course, The Last Duel was helmed by the legendary director, Ridley Scott. You know Ridley Scott as the genius behind Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, The Martian, and many, many others.
That being said, as you would expect, The Last Duel looks amazing. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time to medieval France. The architecture, the armor, the clothing, the landscapes, the weaponry, the messiness of the era–it all looks grounded in absolute reality. This isn’t surprising considering that it’s a piece of historical fiction.
Damon, Driver, and Comer nail their roles. Damon is hugely unlikable, Driver is both charming and horrible, and Comer is potently restrained.
But in the end, I found the entire premise of the movie distasteful and the tone uncomfortable. Yes, the movie is based on actual events, yet that alone did not dictate the direction and artistic choices made by the creatives. After all, The Last Duel is not a documentary.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Damon’s character marries Comer’s character in order to amass more land and to produce an heir. His friend, played by Driver, finds himself favored by royalty and continues gaining advantage after advantage, which enrages Damon’s character. Comer’s character eventually accuses Driver’s character of raping her. It is then decreed that Damon’s character will battle Driver’s character in a duel to the death. The winner will supposedly be chosen by God, and that will determine whether an actual rape occurred or not.
The premise is troubling enough as it is, but the execution of the film is where it truly lost me. The film is broken into three components–first from the perspective of Damon’s character, then Driver’s, and then Comer’s. The script seems to want the audience to believe that Comer’s character was in love with Driver’s character and set him up, which ultimately was not the case at all. I found that manipulation alarming. In this day and age, blaming the victim is simply reprehensible. They also chose to depict the rape of Comer’s character three separate times, a little differently each time, which stuck me as gratuitous and unseemly.
I hoped that at some point, there would be a message in this movie. There would be something we could learn about the human condition. There would be something that reinforced the fact that human rights and individual dignity must take precedence no matter when or where a story takes place.
That did not happen. Perhaps the filmmakers intended a deeper meaning. Maybe they wanted to convey a criticism of the horrors women have endured throughout history. However, in my opinion, the film simply seemed to relish in its disturbing plotline.
As I said before, it’s not a documentary. The filmmakers may argue that they simply reconstructed actual events. I would counter by saying that the actors playing Frenchmen in this film did not even use a French accent, so I’m not sure how beholden they were to authenticity. In other words, they made choices, and I disagree with many of those choices.
I do not recommend The Last Duel.