"The Last Duel" offers a glimpse into 14th century France and especially the gender politics and general treatment of women at the time. It is a mirror to the past, paralleling the current #MeToo movement with the story of Marguerite de Carrouges, a young woman raped by her husbands former friend. When she speaks out about what happened to her she is scrutinized, blamed, and it ultimately leads to the titular last duel, in which her husband and her rapist face off. If her husband dies, it is a sign from God that she lied, and she would be burned for speaking out against her rapist. Were her husband to live, it would be a sign she is telling the truth.
While "The Last Duel" focuses on Marguerite (Jodie Comer) and how she is treated in this male and church dominated world, much of the movie is dedicated to her husband, Sir Jean de Carrouges (played by Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), a man in love with her and seemingly in the way of her husband's every attempt to advance in life. Each man has a section of the film dedicated to his "truth", offering a look at how each sees himself the hero of his story. It is only in the last forty-five minutes or so we see the truth of the matter through the eyes of Marguerite.
A movie that retreads the same ground over-and-over to show the various perspectives can be tiring quickly but because of the unreliable narrators early on, it allows multiple renditions of the same moments that cast a kind of puzzle for the viewer, deciding what actually happened and whether the feelings expressed are truth or false. You know the duel is coming at the end, but the movie paints the testimony of the three major players in vivid detail before the defining battle.
Director Ridley Scott is no stranger to the historical drama and offers an engrossing attention to detail in set design, clothing, politics and law. If this movie is not nominated for an Oscar in costume design, that's a true snub.
And every actor gives a powerful performance with the exception of Matt Damon, who I thought was the weakest link of an otherwise stellar cast (though Matt Damon's mullet was glorious, perhaps the best since Jean-Claude Van Damme in "Hard Target"). Ben Affleck as the flamboyant drunken Count is probably the standout.
Dramatic tension seeps from the last half hour and especially the duel. The violence of the movie is expertly done, showcasing brutal, loud melees that avoid any sort of choreographed shenanigans. I won't say the entire movie is worth sitting through just for that fight, but it's a great, emotional feast.
"The Last Duel" is a movie of ugly emotions and history that shows that even 600 plus years on, we are still seeing the same arguments toward those who speak out against sexual violence. The film's focus on the duel does downplay the movies main message, but the message is powerful, the emotions are high, and "The Last Duel" is one of the year's best films to date.