The Last Duel (2021)
December 14, 2021 7:24 AM - Subscribe

King Charles VI declares that Knight Jean de Carrouges settle his dispute with his squire by challenging him to a duel.

Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. Based on real medieval events of a rape accusation settled by trial by combat (not a duel). Tells the same story from three different perspectives, Rashomon-like. Content warning: contains brutal and explicit physical and sexual violence.

Medievalists and Slate on its historical context.
posted by TheophileEscargot (8 comments total)
I was expecting something daft but entertaining, but the movie was a lot more thoughtful than I expected. It also got quite close to genuine medieval ideas than most movies, like the way Marguerite's position as a noblewoman is a complex mixture of power and constraint. I wasn't expecting the nods to the Me Too movement.

On the other hand did have some of the usual anachronisms like fire arrows and open-faced helmets. I liked the way armour is actually effective in the fight scenes, especially when Adam Driver literally breaks his sword on Matt Damon's armour, rather than stabbing straight through it as sometimes happens in movies.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:34 AM on December 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

and the film walks the line well here by showing that what Le Gris does not consider to be wrong is still absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

This is what I was a bit worried about when I first heard that they were going for a Rashomon multiple narratives approach in a film that is about a brutal rape. That is, to put it mildly, not an easy line to walk and I think that the film did it as well as could be expected.

I'm not sure how to feel about the inclusion of a double brutal rape scene. It's pretty essential to the narrative of this historicalish event and maybe I'm a hypocrite since I have no such compunction about the brutal killing in the judicial combat but I could certainly understand if there were people who didn't particularly care to see a film including that.
posted by atrazine at 8:31 AM on December 14, 2021

I'm not sure how to feel about the inclusion of a double brutal rape scene.

Rape (and any other sort of disturbing brutality for that matter) can very effectively be implied without any graphic depiction. Filmmakers used to be quite good at the dramatic use of suggestion/implication, leaning heavily on the viewers’ mental ability to fill-in the blanks.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:37 AM on December 15, 2021

A recent thread on the blue, largely focused on that choice in the movie.
posted by trig at 8:07 AM on December 15, 2021

Making a film post-Weinstein/#MeToo with a violent rape, shown twice, as its centrepiece is a pretty high difficulty setting, and while I’m not sure it was outright gratuitous, I also don't think the rest of the film earned those scenes, if that makes any sense. Jodie Comer did an excellent job in showing the nuances between the three perspectives and how much she was at the mercy both of the mens’ actions and the perceptions they projected on her, which IMO is where the story lives — and if it isn’t then showing a rape twice through in its entirety is just cheap and exploitative — but the rest didn't come together for me.

I understand intellectually that all the details like de Carrouges' precarious social standing and illiteracy, Le Gris' education and its usefulness to d'Alençon, d'Alençon's immaturity and debauchery and how that environment may have influenced Le Gris all contributed to the events unfolding as they did, but the way it was presented felt like the film didn’t know what it was trying to say. If they wanted to tell a historically accurate story of trial by combat, putting the actual rape on screen was unnecessary. If they wanted to show that shitty toxic men enable other shitty toxic men, or that women suffer under a patriarchy … it’s 2021, this is common knowledge, we don’t need a film to point it out. If they wanted to show how destructive the consequences of rape can be for everyone involved, it needed to be handled much better than this script handled it.

I was also a bit baffled at the casting of two very mainstream, very American actors as the lead roles of medieval French noblemen, until I learnt Damon and Affleck wrote the screenplay so they probably meant it to be their vehicle from the start, which feels ... misguided.
(My uncharitable hot take: this muddled, let’s-consider-all-sides approach is exactly what I'd expect from a couple middle-aged oblivious white dudes who have spent pretty much their entire adult lives ensconced in Hollywood privilege.)

Never for a moment was I able to forget I was watching Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and that probably contributed to the film not working for me. Affleck was particularly unconvincing, and d'Alençon felt almost cartoonishly one-dimensional as a result. I couldn't help imagining how it would have played with someone like Vincent Cassel in the role, someone with the chops to give the 'louche libertine' character that hint of depth and nuance which could have elevated it above caricature.

Whatever the reasons I found it to be a slog to get through. All the male leads were so unpleasant that the only reason I made it to the end of the film was because I knew I'd get to see at least one of them die.
posted by myotahapea at 12:05 PM on December 24, 2021

Just to note that the screenplay was also co-written by Nicole Holofcener, she has interviews about it here and here.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:28 PM on December 24, 2021

Most of what I would say has been said above. The MeToo friendly message is surprising but feels a little weak, and I wonder if Ridley Scott's anger about the failure of this movie was that he thought it would earn some cookies.

The Rashômon structure of it felt a little bit shallow. It didn't complicate the story enough to feel worth it? Though there were some small things to appreciate, like how Adam Driver's story created the idea of chasing around the table as play, but in the final story it was not at all playful. I also like when Damon charges into battle at Limoges, his dad is like, "Eh let him go."

But IDK I'm a pushover for when the just win, when the low are elevated, and the haters have to eat shit. I guess I feel the movie earned the almost-final shots a little bit, of coming through dark low passages to a cathedral under construction, while Adam Driver hangs naked from a gibbet, though none of it really helps Marguerite.

But it's all kind of too simple.
posted by fleacircus at 5:50 AM on December 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I was aware of that, yea -- I think it came up in the thread on the Blue. But Holofcener says in that linked NPR interview that Ben pitched it to her as "one month and 30 pages" and that "Matt and Ben, before they came to me, decided to tell it in this way". So it seems less a collaboration and more like they brought her in specifically to write only the version shown from Marguerite's standpoint, and that she had to stay within the confines of the storyline they had already created.
posted by myotahapea at 5:51 AM on December 25, 2021

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