c-lastduel

“The Last Duel” is an ambitious two-and-a-half-hour long epic that, while gorgeously detailed, lacks nuanced thematic material and feels somewhat condescending with its heavy-handed message.

“The Last Duel” is the latest film from legendary and prolific director Ridley Scott, best known for the sci-fi classics “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” and stars Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer in the lead roles. The story takes place in 14th-century France when Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer) claims that squire Jacques Le Gris (Driver) sexually assaulted her. Jean de Carrouges (Damon) publicizes his wife’s accusation and demands a duel to the death with Le Gris.The movie is subdivided into three chapters, each being presented as “the truth” according to one of the three main characters, in a clear tribute to Akira Kurosawa’s classic “Rashomon.” 

A major positive of “The Last Duel” is how immaculately detailed the production of the film is. The film’s 100-million-dollar budget is excellently utilized. The interior sets are lavishly decorated with candelabras, flags and silver-and-gold goblets, among other period accurate minutiae. What’s more is that most of the locations shown are physical sets with CGI being used sparingly, and when resorted to, it is used to complement scenes rather than feeling like a cheap theme park attraction. A splendid example of this is castles being superimposed into the background of scenes to enhance the film’s scope. The titular last duel was incredibly brutal and bloody, perfectly conveying the intended fear and tension characters both spectating and participating were feeling.

An interesting choice made for “The Last Duel” was to not have any of the actors even attempt to use a fake French accent; Damon and Driver were obviously speaking in their standard American accents and Comer kept her English accent. While this choice does forgo some degree of period accuracy, so does the actors not speaking French. I found this decision was ultimately to the benefit of the film because rather than delivering their lines with inconsistent French accents, the actors were able to deliver lines of faux Old English with much more ease.

Driver and Comer deliver a pair of solid performances, far from either’s best but still serviceable. The stumbling block in terms of performances is unquestionably Damon, who completely overperforms the role of Jean de Carrouges. His shrieking and hollering turn what should otherwise be serious scenes into comedic ones.

What hinders “The Last Duel” more than anything else is the execution of the three-chapter structure. To understand why “The Last Duel” fails is to also understand why Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” works. In “Rashomon,” similar to “The Last Duel,” the characters present multiple accounts of an alleged assault to the audience. These accounts come from a bride, a bandit, a samurai’s ghost and a woodcutter. Importantly, for one of these accounts to be true, every other account of the incident must be entirely false. The moral quandary of the film comes from deciding who is telling the whole truth — if anyone is at all.

“The Last Duel” fails because it presents its events with zero ambiguity or room for interpretation. The scenes could be put into chronological order and still have a perfectly cohesive narrative. While there are occasional interesting pieces of insight into how the characters see themselves or others gleaned from this structure, I wish the film took the concept far further than it ultimately did. 

To even further remove ambiguity from the story, when the title card “The Truth According to Marguerite de Carrouges” pops up and starts to fade during the third chapter, the words “The Truth” do not fade out. This is the film telling us that Marguerite’s version of events are true and unbiased. It turns what was a decent “Rashomon” homage to an unfulfilling “believe women” metaphor that fails to feel empowering and instead feels condescending. 

Ultimately, “The Last Duel” is not without merit, delivering interesting sets, scope and ambition, but it fails to have any nuance and feels completely shallow. There are some interesting aspects of societal critique buried in there, with the men being portrayed as acting solely for their own self-righteousness and not what is best for the victim. 

In conclusion, I give “The Last Duel” a 5/10. I would recommend watching this if you are partial to period pieces or medieval films because the scope is still impressive and sure to be some degree of satisfying to fans of this style.

culture@dailynebraskan.com