Film Review: The Last Duel – 8/10

‘The truth does not matter...’

Ridley Scott complained bitterly about both of his 2021 releases failing at the box office. Despite receiving warm reviews, both The Last Duel and House of Gucci were destroyed by the MCU movies and the latest James Bond instalment, while both of Scott’s films actually lost money. And as much as I loved Spider-Man: No Way Home, Scott has a point. There should be room for big budget movies from noted directors packed full of movie stars. With Francis Ford Coppola the latest cinematic great to interrogate the state of filmmaking in recent years, this is a philosophical question that is fast becoming a crisis. But is The Last Duel any good?

Following an accusation of rape against his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), a vengeful knight, tries to persuade King Charles VI (Alex Lawther) to permit a duel, a literal fight to the death, a practice that has been outlawed for hundreds of years. On the other side of the lance is Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), the accused, a popular and successful squire in the service of the lustful and charismatic landowner Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck).

So, this should be a box office home run. A hugely talented cast. A mix of bona fide movie stars and up and coming talent. A legendary director. A fascinating true story. A proper budget. What went wrong? Well, firstly Ridley Scott has never been one to shy away from innovation and here he features a number of scenes more than once, each time with slight changes in delivery and execution in order to reflect whose point of view the action is being viewed from. While this is an interesting idea, we don’t really need to see Comer’s character brutally raped twice, and in the end, this seemingly fresh cinematic technique ends up feeling little more than a gimmick. Aside from that small misstep however, there is a lot to recommend here. Driver and Damon make for a fantastic double act, with the latter particularly wrathful as the man wronged. Comer is excellent in a challenging role and the supporting cast do a great job in fleshing out the world this story inhabits, particularly a devilish Affleck who has a great deal of fun with the frequently hilarious lines his character is blessed with.

The Last Duel is a success then, one of Scott’s finest works in the past decade. And yet, it was snubbed by both audiences and the Academy alike. This really is a worrying time for mainstream cinema.