From its opening shot of a sweeping vista, The Last Duel virtually announces that you are watching a Ridley Scott epic. As medieval soldiers fall from battlements, and swords clank into muddied armour, The Last Duel is a movie that positively wants to drop you in the very heat of battle. Yet, far away from the decaying corpses of victory is a far subtler story to be told.
In accusing Adam Driver’s Jean Le Gris of rape, Jodie Comer’s Marguerite is forcing her dour husband, Jean de Carrouges (as played by Matt Damon), to choose between her version of events and Jean’s. Who is telling the truth? And in this last documented “trial by duel”, is this really the best way for a man to find out if his wife is lying to him?
… For a movie that centres on a sense of honour that has been wronged, the film, unfortunately, misses its best opportunity for intrigue.
Well, for a story rooted so deeply in French history you might be forgiven feeling a little more dislocated. You see, with none of the cast giving the merest of wafer-thin inflexions to their dialogue The Last Duel might as well be in England’s Tudor period. So, whilst Ridley Scott’s former swords and sandal companion, Rusell Crowe, might take some solace here in not being the only A-list actor to find his accent wavering around Nottingham, this does nothing for a film, which at its heart, is an hour far too long.
With its clipped dialogues sitting ill upon their tongues, it’s only Ben Affleck who manages to find some panache to spare as Count Pierre d’Alençon. Gleefully taunting a stodgily uncomfortable Matt Damon and a compromised Adam Driver, the movie’s clearest indication rests with Jodie Comer. However, with each of the principal characters given about an hour of screen time to repeat their differing version of events, the film’s sensational appeal quickly drowns in repetitive replays.
Put in simple terms, what is missing is here is any genuine suspense and intrigue. Whilst “Millennials gazing in their smartphones” may yet be the death knell of cinema – to paraphrase Ridley Scott’s defence on why The Last Duel was dismally dismounted at the box office, this is a film that is full of unlikeable characters.
For a movie that centres on a sense of honour that has been wronged, the film, unfortunately, misses its best opportunity for intrigue, namely as to why a woman should be seen as a possession and not as a person. Sadly, with only this merest of handheld aloft by its close, this glib nod becomes too small a gesture when there was a far better boil to be lanced in the first place.