One of two Ridley Scott films this year, “The Last Duel” takes a big swing in its narrative structure. This is no spoiler, but the dueling knight/love triangle plot is told from three different perspectives, each a slightly different version of the truth.
Scott is never afraid of challenges and knows no bounds when it comes to tackling various genres, i.e. “House of Gucci” later this year. “The Last Duel” reunites Matt Damon, who worked with Scott on “The Martian,” with Oscar-winning writing pal Ben Affleck, the film’s comedic relief. Yet it’s Emmy-winner Jodie Comer who rides off with the film, giving not only the best performance of the group but serving as the fractured film’s anchor.
It’s Paris 1386 and Sir Jean de Carrouges (Damon) is an uneducated knight with facial scars from battle, no sense of finance and zero diplomacy. Carrouges’ anger is a great asset in battle, but outside of wartime, he struggles in society. Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) is the complete opposite; sure, he can wield a sword with great strength, but his education, expertise in politics, family connections and his appeal with women afford him great power and wealth in peacetime.
Carrouges’ marriage to Marguerite de Thibouville (Comer) was a smart move, making him instantly wealthy. For the first time, Le Gris wants something someone else has, yet the question no one cares to ask is what Marguerite wants.
You may find “The Truth According to Carrouges” and “The Truth According to Le Gris” repetitive. It’s true both parts tell nearly the same story, with both arrogant men the hero in their own tale. Within these two segments (over half the film), however, it’s the nuanced differences that speak volumes. It’s only when we get to “The Truth According to Marguerite” that “The Last Duel” picks up in suspense and tension.
The film is epic in story and cast but not in scope. While most scenes are interior shots, the cinematography is stark with little flair. The score, production design and other cinematic elements fail to register.
The film’s climax is rooted in fact and shot “Game of Thrones” style, building suspense from the “Let God decide who is telling the truth” type of justice. The film’s structure turns out to be quite unnecessary. “The Last Duel” easily could’ve accomplished everything contained in the 132 minutes in less time by having Marguerite as the lead character.
The film’s message, better left unspoiled, is all too relevant today. The commentary on male pride and female victimization leaves us with much more to discuss than battle scenes.
Final Thought: Ridley Scott’s splintered, nearly epic “The Last Duel” works best when Jodie Comer is guiding the narrative.