The Last Duel – A Movie Review

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.

The Martian – A Movie Review

Of course, I have to urge you to read the book by Andy Weir because it is a wonderfully fulfilling read, but this film version starring Matt Damon captured the essence of the book very well.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story line, Mark Watney is left behind by his crew mates during a mission on Mars.  Not to Mars.  On Mars.  A storm blows in, they must flee the surface, he gets separated from them, they believe he died, they blast off, and the story ensues.

The movie nailed the characters in this adaptation.  The book has no villain.  It is literally everyone doing their best to keep Watney alive and bring him home.  Everyone is a decent person; everyone wants to do their job well.  Refreshing, right?  The movie succeeded in casting very likable actors to play these roles, and Matt Damon plays the most likable of them all – Watney.

The film’s only shortcoming is that it didn’t even scratch the surface of the actual math and science described in the book.  Watney calculates every thing he does in the book and runs the reader through those calculations and experiments.  The movie did not have the time nor the audience’s likely attention span to delve quite so deeply.  It also left out some pivotal moments in the book, but again, few movies are able to achieve a page-for-page adaptation.

The movie exceeded my own imagination in depicting Mars’ barren landscape.  It also somehow managed to make a two and a half hour film move incredibly quickly and execute one exciting scene after another.  Finally, Watney survives months and months alone on an inhospitable planet largely because of his positive personality and fun sense of humor.  Damon definitely delivered on the Watney readers love.

This is certainly one of my favorite movies of the year.  Not surprisingly, I’ll ask you to read the book first, but other than leaving out some important aspects of the source material, the film pleases on every level.

 

 

The Departed – A Movie Review

My wife and I finally watched The Departed last night and all I can say is that it was an electrifying and outstanding movie.  I initially was hesitant to watch it because I heard it was very violent, but the violence actually was neither terribly gratuitous nor gory.  Still disturbing, mind you, but not in an over the top way. 

The story itself was wrought with tension and very, very engaging.  I literally did not know for sure what was going to happen next, and that was a nice feeling in today’s movie world.  Though the film lasted two and a half hours, it flew by surprisingly fast. 

The acting absolutely was superb and I am not exaggerating.  Jack Nicholson made me laugh, he creeped me out, he made me feel sorry for him, he made me hate him.  Matt Damon more than held his own and, while he still played the emotionally restrained type that is beginning to plague his career, he did a great job.  DiCaprio has left behind his teen heartthrob image once and for all, and he truly shined as he gave us an emotional depth and complexity that made me thank God I wasn’t in his character’s shoes.  Baldwin, while his part was smaller, was hilarious in a totally underplayed manner.  The one who stole the show, though, was Mark Wahlberg.  While his part also was rather small, he stole every, and I mean every, scene he was in.  I will be rooting for him at tonight’s 79th Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor.

I tell you, I hope Scorsese finally wins for Best Director.  I believe this film easily could have been just another cops and robbers movie, but Scorsese made us care about each and every one of these guys, and that’s something special.  I even wouldn’t be too upset if it beat out Little Miss Sunshine for Best Picture.

The Bourne Ultimatum – A Movie Review

HUGE Bourne fan!  HUUUUGE!  That said, The Bourne Ultimatum wasn’t quite as good as the first two, and I’ll tell you why (without spoilers), but it’s still better than most of what’s out there.

The good-awesome, awesome, awesome action sequences.  Incredible stuff.  Damon is as intense as ever.  The locations are still gorgeous and realistic.  While there are obviously special effects, none of it seemed so outlandish that it couldn’t happen in real life.  Sure, Bourne must have nine lives, but it’s not like someone couldn’t survive all the car crashes and such.  Not likely, but also not impossible. 

The bad-I had a headache when I saw it with my wife, and the shaky-cam shooting style got a little nauseating.  Literally.  But, that’s my fault, not the movie’s.  We finally get some answers about Jason Bourne, and they can’t help but be a bit anti-climatic.  We so love our mystery men, and once they cease to be a total mystery, they get a little bit more like us, and let’s face it, most of us are kind of boring.  Furthermore, I really miss Bourne’s love interest, Marie.  Without her, I think an important component of Jason Bourne is missing, and he’s less relatable as a result.

So, in summation, while I loved the action, Damon’s acting, and the locations, I just didn’t care about the plot of The Bourne Ultimatum, and the plot is the soul of any movie.