Trigger Warning: The following article contains mentions of rape.
If somebody told me a few years ago that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck would join forces to write a movie together again, I would never guess that the result of that screenwriting pair would be “The Last Duel.”
I personally did not know a lot about the content of this movie. I was quite surprised when I realized that the central conflict of this story is not a medieval duel, but one of conflicting perspectives on rape.
The story shows three medieval French perspectives — Sir Jean’s (Damon), squire Le Gris’ (Adam Driver) and Marguerite’s (Jodie Comer) — on the rape of Marguerite, leading up to the titular duel.
This movie contains several graphic scenes of rape that could be quite triggering to some viewers, and I wholeheartedly believe knowing that is imperative before purchasing theater tickets and spending two and a half hours trapped in the ruthlessness of Ridley Scott’s world building.
Scott’s directing is once again strongest in the fight scenes, with carefully choreographed violence that is given room to breathe, as Scott makes sure to minimize camera cuts during the action sequences as much as possible. The film is at its best when the characters are silent and their weapons are speaking, which is a criticism against the rest of the writing.
Damon and Affleck actually only wrote the first two thirds of the movie in the male viewpoints, and Nicole Holofcener was given the responsibility of bringing Marguerite’s story to the screen in the last third. This is probably the reason behind the narrative quality being so inconsistent, with the first third being painfully boring, the second almost too fun and the third almost too preachy.
Even in terms of acting, this movie is a mixed bag. Affleck delivers one of his most entertaining performances in years, showcasing a lot of depth, nuance and plain fun with quite a limited screen time.
Jodie Comer, who essentially portrays three different versions of one character, does so successfully in all three parts, and chews the scenery around her once she is given more material to work with in the last third of the film.
Driver, as always, commands each second he spends on screen, stealing the scene with every line he utters and every move he makes. His charisma is effortlessly captivating, and Driver seems quite aware of that, using his imposed confidence to the fullest. This is nothing new for anyone who has followed his career in the past several years, but this is also definitely not one of his more impressive performances.
Even some of the smaller parts were memorable, most notably Alex Lawther — probably best known for his lead performance in the Netflix show “The End of the F-ing World” — as King Charles VI, who at times resembles the obliviousness, but not the brutality, thankfully, of Jack Gleeson’s Joffrey from “Game of Thrones.”
Sadly, these aforementioned performance praises cannot be given to Damon, whose accent is all over the place, and whose storyline dragged not only because of the writing, but also because of his bland performance. He is either the nicest squire that ever served a French king, or the most vile, simple and evil man ever to walk the lands of Europe, no in-between, no nuance.
The fantastically choreographed fight scenes, solid acting and crisp directing are sadly not enough to justify the unnecessary length of the film, the aimlessness of the script or the rape scene repetitions, dragging “The Last Duel” away from greatness and into mediocrity.