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‘The Last Duel’: An experienced cast

| Thursday, November 4, 2021

Claire Kirner | The Observer

“The Last Duel” by Ridley Scott starring Adam Driver, Matt Damon and Jodie Comer is a recalibration of our romanticized constructions of medieval knighthood. In this iteration, battles are fought for predetermined payments, women are subjugated for petty desires, and religious fealty is a pretext for hypocrisy and barbarity. 

With Eric Jager’s novel as inspiration, Scott creates a three part narrative of the last government sanctioned duel in France from the perspectives of knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), favored squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) and Marguerite (Jodie Comer), wife of Carrouges, whose accusation of rape against Le Gris (of course, vehemently denied) lies at the center of the trial. 

This battle to the death between two once-friends and its central question of guilt titillated the Parisian crowds of the 14th century and continues to be a subject of historical debate. But Scott, in an era-realistic decision, leaves zero ambiguity as to the occurrence of rape and instead re-centers the intrigue around decoding the overlapping and competing narratives of the tripartite structure (first, the “truth according to Jean de Carrouges”, then “the truth according to Jacques le Gris” and finally “the truth according to Marguerite”). The question then becomes not what happened, but how it is remembered. 

The production’s sparing use of CGI for physical sets with muted colors casts a gritty, bleak tone upon every interaction. Apparently, there is not a single good man, friend or ruler in medieval France. 

Instead, the attention is turned towards the characters themselves and the solid acting of an experienced cast. In particular, the choice to speak an Old English-inspired accent that isn’t British, isn’t contemporary American, and definitely isn’t French, turned out to be a discerning one. Accessible to the audience but far-removed enough to be believable, the film sidesteps the unconvincingly embarrassing attempts made by previous productions. In this, “The Last Duel” illustrates that neither language nor accents need to be barriers to telling stories. 

Through the smallest details, the cast creates entirely different retellings of each truth. From nobly aggrieved to incompetent and finally critical and standoffish, Damon’s acting range is brought once again, to the forefront in Carrouges. In turn, Driver’s natural charisma is allowed to shine through Jaques, romanticizing his predatory behavior in his own iteration, and creating a contemptible, self-pitying opportunist who truly believes that Marguerite’s thrashing is the “customary protest” of a lady. And Marguerite, poor Marguerite, changes from a two-dimensional object of the male gaze into, what is clearly, a human being with thoughts and desires. What Carrouges saw as saving a beautiful woman from the disgrace of her father turns, in her perspective, into egocentric bickering over her dowry. And what Jacques saw as a tantalizing removal of her shoes, changes horrifyingly into the product of panicked fleeing. 

By virtue of its perhaps somewhat heavy handed message and presentation, “The Last Duel” will not be winning any awards. But it is an important and visually-pleasing reminder of the importance of perception in the entertaining context of a low-stakes reality. 

Film: The Last Duel

Director: Ridley Scott

Actors: Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Matt Damon

If you like: “Gladiator” and “Kingdom of Heaven”

Shamrocks: 4.5/ 5

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