Ridley Scott does Rashomon by way of medieval France in his latest historical epic The Last Duel, a multi-perspective tale of truth, justice, and honor. Based on a true story (via author Eric Jager’s 2004 account), the film feels far removed from earlier Scott works such as the Crusades-era Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, there’s plenty of blood and thunder, but at the core is a human drama played out between former friends.
Scripted by Enough Said filmmaker Nicole Holofcener and Good Will Hunting bros Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the story casts Damon as Jean de Carrouges. The nobleman falls from favor with the rakish Count Pierre d’Alençon (Affleck), who prefers the company of Adam Driver’s lusty, Latin-spouting Jacques LeGris, who violently enforces the Count’s rule.
De Carrouges marries Lady Marguerite (Jodie Comer), telling her "I’m a very jealous man." He’s also increasingly exasperated when the Count takes the land that was part of Marguerite’s dowry and gives it to LeGris. But worse is to come when Marguerite accuses this interloper of rape. King Charles VI (Alex Lawther, fab) declares there will be a duel to the death, with dire consequences for Marguerite if her husband loses.
The conceit here is that events are told first from the viewpoint of de Carrouges, then LeGris, and finally Marguerite. Things shift accordingly, notably the account of the rape but also subtleties in exchanges between characters. With Comer’s educated and dignified spouse risking everything, it’s a story that feels utterly relevant in the #MeToo era, exploring issues of assault, consent and victimhood.
Damon follows up his recent Stillwater turn with another beefy performance; Driver is dependably good and Affleck goes to town as the Count, whose reprobate behavior includes packing his pregnant wife off to bed before partying with a roomful of naked women. But it’s the excellent Comer who provides the film’s beating heart, giving her best big-screen turn to date.
Regular Scott cinematographer Dariusz Wolski employs a wintry palette that brings the starkness of late-14th-century France alive. The Last Duel also evokes, naturally, the director’s career-launching tale of male confrontation, The Duellists (1977). Building towards the – as promised – violent climax, the two-and-a-half-hour running time does begin to feel unwieldy. That aside, this is a dexterous drama that will make you think (and rethink).
The Last Duel played at Venice Film Festival before reaching cinemas on October 15. For more, check out our guide to the most exciting upcoming movies heading your way.