Tuesday, 7 December 2021

The Last Duel (2021)

Ridley Scott's historical movie is set in the late 1300's north of France and tells an allegedly true story, well, based on fact, which actually historians are also unclear regarding, about two men who start off as friends but end up bitter rivals.

Matt Damon plays Jean de Carrouges and Adam Driver, Jacques Le Gris. They are squires and noblemen or the like, who find themselves fighting for king and country far too often and form a bond in the early part of the film of what appears to be brotherhood. The first part of the film dances all around a 20 year timeline, so watch out for the captions of when we're at! In fact, this dance is really quite quickfire often with a very short scene and then onto the next, 10 years later and so on. So keep up at the back!

This is all during the Hundred Years war between England and France, taking in Scotland at one point. Anyway, as we leap between battlefields and timelines, then spend some time back at base, it becomes clear that Jacques has the favour of the king and his sidekicks and is given favours left, right and centre, some of it land and wealth that Jean thinks is his. And so the rivalry kicks off and they start avoiding each other or spitting at each other in court.

This is the point at which the film splits into three, only coming back together for the finale. Part 1 is the events as told by Jean, Part 2 by Jacques and Part 3 by Marguerite, Jean's wife, played by Jodie Comer. You see, she is allegedly raped by Jacques while Jean is away doing boy's things, and the three main characters in turn tell their story. So yes, there's quite a repetition going on with the 'facts' presented dramatically, three times, based on which one tells the story of what happened surrounding the alleged rape.

All the stories agree that Marguerite decides to tell Jean that Jacques has raped her and so Jean is on an even greater quest to cash in his rivalry with Jacques by dragging him through court, in front of the king, and ultimately towards the duel to the death. This is the Middle Ages and they think that god will decide and if Jacques wins, Marguerite will be burned at the stake. Of course, there are no witnesses, but at this time women are second class citizens and the sexism is reflected by depicting the rape (if it happened) as a slur against the house of the husband, not the woman who allegedly endured it.

Anyway, that's enough of the lead up. Obviously, the finale is the duel to see who is the 'winner' and what fallout there is along the way. If you can forgive the dodgy smattering of American, British and French accents with little attempt to hide them, the three leads do very well. They are convincing and portray the harrowing tale superbly well, particularly Driver and Comer. There are various other names thrown in the mix, like Ben Affleck, who also produced with Damon, but most of the others had pretty small parts. One criticism of the film could be that there was more meat on the bones of the other characters which could have been chewed.

The setting is blood-stained battlefields, castles and mud-strewn streets as you'd imagine and some of the battle scenes verge on the gory here and there. It's always depicted as cold and wintery and some of the cinematography is well imagined and nicely shot. Alex Lawther play 'mad' King Charles VI extremely well, though he doesn't have a huge part in the film. I remember him from The End of the Fxxxing World on Channel 4, in which he was very well cast.

I struggled at the end to decide whether or not the two and a half hour running time was worth it and kept my attention but decided that it was, and it did. It's not gripping, by any stretch of the imagination but there are plenty of scenes which are suspenseful drama, especially the finale, but elsewhere too where the moral fibre of the characters is up for question. The motivation and behaviours added to the uncertainty of being able to identify with how differently this would have been dealt with, and turned out, in our age. Very differently of course.

I didn't feel an emotional engagement with the film, rather I reflected on what was a brutal, hard-nosed time depicting very different values and standards in a very different era. Give it a go and see what you think. It's just started to appear on streaming services, so use your Play Points, Vouchers or whatever!

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