“The Last Duel” is a tale of knights in armor. But not chivalry. Not at all.
There is no chivalry in the world where the picture is put. This is the world of France in the 14th century, where life is vile, cruel and bloody; where the sky is gray and brooding; and where cold castles loom menacingly over gloomy landscapes mired in mud and covered in snow. Director Ridley Scott, who knows a thing or two about how to create large-scale historical epics (see Gladiator), is in his element here.
This story, inspired by Eric Yager’s 2004 book The Last Duel: The True Story of Crime, Scandal and Fighting Trial in Medieval France, is divided into three parts. The same events unfold from the perspective of the three main characters in a manner similar to Akira Kurosawa’s Rasomon, which clearly inspired friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who wrote and starred in the film. This is their first collaboration on a script since Good Willa Hunting, which earned them an Oscar in 1998. They hired Nicole Holofsener, who herself was nominated for an Oscar in the 2018 film Can You Ever Forgive Me? – collaborate on the script to best represent the point of view of the female lead, played by Jodie Comer.
Comer’s character is the pivot around which the plot unfolds. She is Marguerite de Carrouge, wife of the knight Jean de Carrouge (Damon) and the object of desire of Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), de Carrouge’s best friend. Her accusation that Le Gris raped her while her husband was away in the war sets in motion a cascade of events that culminates in a deadly duel between two men.
The introductory section presents de Carrouge’s point of view, revealing him as a brutal warrior, fearless, impetuous, selfish and cold possessive towards his wife. Damon tries his best to convey these emotions, but somehow only makes de Carrouge seem just irritable.
When de Carrouge’s wife reports that Le Gris attacked and raped her, he does not believe. He doubts that she was leading the attacker in any way. She categorically denies his suspicions and demands to bring Le Gris to justice. In feudal France, where women were considered the property of their husbands, the chances of her getting justice were very high.
Le Gris is the focus of the second section. The driver, always dressed in black, is sometimes cold-blooded, sometimes persistently passionate. His character is mostly an insidious schemer who, from a close relationship with a high-ranking member of the court (Affleck, who paints a light color, which at first makes him almost unrecognizable), turns into this man’s accountant. This allows him to put pressure on his old friend de Carrouge, who is drowning in debt.
The quarrel over a rich piece of land that was supposed to go to de Carrouge as part of his wife’s dowry, but instead passed into the hands of Le Gris, turns former friends into bitter enemies. It is noteworthy that the land dispute infuriates de Carrouge much more than rape.
In the third section, Margarita Komer’s portrayal of Margaret evokes more sympathy for her than either of the two men. Its execution is textured and deeply convincing.
Margarita is level-headed, efficiently managing the family estate and balancing the ledgers in the absence of her husband. Above all, she is determined when it seems that the entire society – including members of the clergy and her vengeful mother-in-law (Harriet Walter), who scolds her for not providing her husband with an heir – believes that she is guilty and indeed guilty. seductress for knocking the attacker out of the way.
The deeply rooted sexism of the time endangered not only the wife’s life, but her husband’s as well. The rules of the duel are such that if her husband loses the fight, it will be considered a sign that she has lied and she will be burned at the stake.
The duel itself is impressively staged. With spears lowered and shields raised, two heavily armored fighters leap towards each other, collide, fall to the ground, and then fight hand-to-hand with sword, ax, and dagger. The outcome is in question until the very end, and even then the victory is ambiguous. There is no usual happy ending here.