Ridley Scott sweeping late 14th Century saga tries to be a poignant parable in finessing large-scale action and melodrama. The Last Duel is a gritty, though not that provocative period picture utilizing a notable technique from classic Kurosawa in wearying if finally humanistic fashion for a timely feel.
The cast features Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer in contextualizing the final sanctioned titular Gallic act. Friends on the battlefield are Damon’s Jean and Driver’s squire Jacques that begins to sour once the latter appears as a tax collector for Affleck’s Count Pierre.
After rising noble Jean marries Comer’s Marguerite, a daughter of a disgraced knight, his land dispute with Pierre puts him in a precarious position while showcasing his warrior aplomb. Then, after a forced assault on Marguerite by Jacques (while her husband is gone) leads to an appeal to Alex Lawther’s boyish King Charles VI for the right to have Jean in a deadly face-off against the victimizer.
The filmmaking relates the scope of what’s at hand through much interaction with peripheral characters as this period denoted the crime as against the man whose beloved was considered property. Going public with such a heinous matter when “there is no right, only the power of men” was stunning. And, the divinity of justice here inextricably connects her fate with her dueling spouse.
You can argue that Comer (Free Guy) has the kind of steely dignity opposite Damon (making more of an ambivalent type in Stillwater) a flawed man with a mullet that stands out more than it should. As well as the wrinkles from a less-styled Driver, of Annette and Marriage Story. But, there’s a lopsided quality from the more rugged, bawdy accounts as scripted in tandem by Damon and Affleck. When ‘the truth as told by’ is up against ‘the truth’ in the latter section from talented scribe Nicole Holofcener having a distinct distaff flair.
So, the side that comes out most entertainingly is from the villainous Jacques in his dark camaraderie with Pierre as a scene-staling Affleck (with peroxide bowl coiffed) allots him with libertine swagger. You get the sense of hopelessness in an unjust system as romance, feuding, and friendship gravitates more like Scott’s logistically lavish Kingdom of Heaven than his sensational, highly riveting sword-and-sandal picture, Gladiator.
Look for Harriet Walter (a co-star of Comer on the small-screen Killing Eve) with acerbic snark as Jen’s mother in another quality Scott production that has some strong viscera interludes but overwhelms its themes in its chilly Medieval bigness. It is a privileged, if knotty, episodic knight’s tale indeed.