“When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.” – Sacha Guitry
Ridley Scott is a bit of a conundrum to me lately. This is Ridley Scott we’re talking about and yet his films as of late haven’t exactly lived up to his lofty reputation. With the exception of The Martian his films have been so hit or miss and even when they hit they’re okay at best. Prometheus is a prime example of a movie that’s enjoyable and worth the watch and purchase if you collect like I do but to deny its multitude of inconsistencies and missteps is to watch it with both eyes closed. When I watch a movie like Prometheus or Alien: Covenant it doesn’t feel like I’m watching the work of the same person who created the original Alien or Gladiator. It’s a comparison of mediocre and exceptional.
I realize no one is perfect but earlier in his career he really went on a tear of exceptionalism and hasn’t boarded that ship as often as he once did in his prime. He demonstrates with films like The Martian or Black Hawk Down that he is still more than capable but arguably more hit than miss as of the last twenty years or so. Please don’t mistake this as a knock on Scott, he is one of my all-time favorite creators but I can’t deny what’s right in front of me and has been for some time.
So that brings us to his latest but not even last film of 2021; for an 83 year-old man he sure doesn’t have any quit in him. The Last Duel is yet another medieval tale in a long list of films under his helm. One might say he has an affinity for this kind of movie. This particular tale was written in part by the Good Will Hunting duo, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
The Last Duel tells of two men strained by their newly instated lordship who favors one over the other. Beginning with small jealousies a chasm of irreparable damage begins to form between them. After time carries on as it does they begin the effort of mending fences for the good of the kingdom. However when they reconnect after time apart one discovers the other’s lovely new bride, more beautiful and tenacious than anticipated. As men of this age and unfortunately any era have demonstrated, they have little restraint and a supposed unforgivable act is proclaimed to have occurred. This creates the final break in any already delicate balance of once friends now sworn enemies. As one knight feels dishonored he challenges the other to a life and death duel and the winner is to be doused in truth and innocence.
The chosen form of storytelling is to show the same time period from the perspective of our three leads, Matt Damon as Jean de Carrouges, Adam Driver as Jacques LeGris and scene stealing Marguerite de Carrouges played to perfection by Jodie Comer. Each chapter, devoted to each perspective, ends with an unspeakable act carried out in a way that determines innocence from guilt. Unfortunately for Lady de Carrouges she is in fact a woman, in the 1300’s; a time of less than equal partnerships between men and women. There is a scene between her future husband and father discussing their potential wedlock and they discuss it and her as if she were livestock with a buyer ready to purchase. Needless to say, her defense of what she says transpired as the unspeakable act is thin at best.
As much as this is a story of one-time friends now enemies, it is about women’s status in a world that looks upon them with a pitiful kind of disdain. If she is to survive her own accusation against a man of true status she must depend on the ego of her own husband as he declares a duel in her supposed defense. Really it’s a thinly veiled excuse to gain his honor back at the risk of his wife burning to death if found guilty. To “prove” her accusations her husband must be victorious in his fight to the death. She risks everything by sticking with her story and her husband risks her all over again simply because society would dictate it so. The tragedy is that no matter the outcome of their duel, she loses in some way regardless. To burn or to live out her days with a husband she can’t stand the sight of. The only silver lining is the baby she finally becomes pregnant with after so many years of trying for an heir.
At times the story can drag as often these kinds of movies tend to do. However through tremendous performances and promise of an epic finale, The Last Duel is worth the two and a half hour runtime. And believe me when I say the finale, the titular duel, is lived up to in every way. Beyond the sublime acting is sporadically placed scenes of tremendously entertaining but uber violent encounters between countries finding themselves at an impasse with one another. This is absolutely one of Scott’s most violent films in his storied career. Each swing of the sword is accompanied by perfect sound design and effects to create a complete picture of bloody righteousness only the religious can achieve. As I mentioned before, as the finale begins it becomes apparent quickly this will be the most ferocious, abhorrently malicious violence of the entire story. And that is truly saying something when so much brutal death is portrayed leading up to their final battle.
I have to add that as violent as this movie is, the most detestable moments, the truly horrific moments occur in scenes of meetings between so-called distinguished gentlemen and their horribly dated opinions of women. In a hearing to determine if a duel is to occur, the lady at the center of it all is asked the most invasive, inappropriate questions designed not to uncover truth but to paint her character as someone out to destroy an innocent man. As long ago as this story takes place, the 1300’s, the saddest reality is that this antiquated kind of thinking is still prominent in the modern day. As they asked their questions, stating pregnancy is only possible through pleasure, accusing her that it couldn’t be rape because she is now six months pregnant therefore pleasure was experienced. It was like being in a modern day congressional hearing held in Texas. It is enough to make you sick listening to such nonsense… Texas.
Anyway, if you know Scott’s previous work and you enjoy his films then The Last Duel should be in your upcoming features this October. The acting, action sequences and cinematography are top-notch in a movie overall decent but lacking in just enough areas to keep it from being a future classic. Watch it for the performances, stay for one of the best finales of the year.
Rated R For: strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language
Runtime: 152 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Action, Drama, History
Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Out of 10 Nerdskulls
Story: 8/ Acting: 10/ Directing: 9/ Visuals: 8
OVERALL: 8 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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