It is said that there are two sides to every story, but Ridley Scott’s latest period piece presents a third. Set in France during the 14th century, The Last Duel documents the true story of Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) and her traumatic life experience, but tells the same story from the perspective of its three leads. With her husband Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) being the first to tell his side of the story, followed by the accused in the matter Jacques Le Gris’ (Adam Driver) detailed defence occupying the middle portion, and finishing with Lady Marguerite to piece all of the puzzle together, intertwining the accounts made by each character.
Surprisingly Scott’s medieval drama failed to break even in the box office, reportedly barely making a quarter of its initial budget. Whilst you can argue its tough and very real subject matter which depicts rape and the rich misogyny of its era could be a hard sell in todays market, Ridley Scott really should be looking at his marketing team for this one, as they have massively missed the mark with the promotion of the Last Duel. Now with a release on Disney+ (which was still something that happened rather discreetly) it has a second chance to really reach a wider audience.
The way Scott choices to tell the story is both the strength of this movie and its weakness. It’s structured in such a way that it allows for a change of perspective and point of view from each character, relating to the same scenario but providing different outcomes. But the film reaches a two and a half hour runtime, and relaying a reconstruction of said scenario, even using the same shots throughout its three separated acts only goes so far. With the stunning set design, locations and general theme of the medieval era merely acting as scenery that do little to bring life to Ridley’s pre-renaissance drama beyond its battle sequences.
The battle sequences in question, although not being as many as you would expect from such a movie, bring shades of Ridley’s finest work. His craft at creating authentic and powerful action sequences on an epic scale, from the likes of Gladiator (2000), to Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and Robin Hood (2010), stays true with what he does with the Last Duel. Brutal, relentless and will likely be what remains with you long after the credits roll.
Jodie Comer has the hardest undertaking with regards to script and the most falls on her to deliver her role. Despite the breakup of acts, allowing each lead to have their moments, Comer’s character arc is the essential piece of the story, and she performs with conviction and the emotional weight needed to sympathise with her real life counterpart. A mullet sporting Matt Damon, bleached blonde Ben Affleck as Count Pierre d’Alencon and a very stoic and threatening Adam Driver, are also very convincing in their roles (questionable accents and haircuts aside).
It seems a shame that Ridley’s work here has failed in perspective to the scale it should’ve ultimately hit. Whilst the consideration of a change of tide in cinema audience attraction in a pandemic world is a strong argument, I put it down to poor marketing resulting in little to no word of mouth recommendations.
Whilst the Last Duel has an engaging story propelled with stunning performances, beautiful sets and pristine camerawork, the world in which it lives feels thematically dull and underexplored. The ‘last duel’ itself is the real breadwinner, giving an ending that satisfies what it had been teasing from its opening shot. With it now being streamed on Disney+, Scott’s splendid period piece has its second shot at acclamation, and I recommend investing your time into it.