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"THE LAST DUEL"
(2021) (Matt Damon, Adam Driver) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A late 14th century rape is told from the perspectives of the woman, her husband, and the man accused of the crime.
PLOT:

It's the late 14th century and knight Jean de Carrouges (MATT DAMON) is about to duel squire Jacques Le Gris (ADAM DRIVER) to the death to resolve the matter of whether Jacques raped Jean's wife, Marguerite (JODIE COMER). The story then rewinds and is told from their separate perspectives beginning with the two men fighting in battles for the king. Jacques then falls in with the king's cousin, Count Pierre d'Alenšon (BEN AFFLECK), and becomes his debt collector. Broke and needing to engage in battle to earn a living, Jean agrees to marry Marguerite to obtain her dowry.

But when he learns that land that was supposed to be bequeathed to him instead was taken by Pierre who then gave that to Jacques as a reward, that doesn't sit well with Jean. That and other related matters come to a head when Marguerite ends up alone -- after her mother-in-law, Nicole (HARRIET WALKER), leaves with everyone else for the day -- thus allowing Jacques -- who thinks he's fallen in love with Marguerite -- to show up and rape her.

With that matter then ending up in court, we see the events leading up to that -- as told by Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite -- as well as the duel to the death that will decide the fate of all involved.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

The old saying goes "the more things change, the more they stay the same." While that can be applied to any number of subjects, it certainly applies to how the mostly male-dominated world views and treats women. Yes, things have improved dramatically over the past one hundred years -- and even more so over the past several centuries -- here in America and in most parts of the world, but some things haven't changed much if at all.

And most of that stems around the sexualization of women ranging from the passive-aggressive thoughts of "she should smile more" to objectifying women and all aspects of rape. Those include beliefs by many men -- and even some women -- that allegations of such sexual attacks are covers for promiscuity or regret over a sexual encounter, are female revenge motivated, or that it wouldn't have happened "if the woman hadn't been dressed that way."

Such long-standing misogyny is explored in "The Last Duel," an initially seemingly unlikely place to shine a light on such matters past and present. It's based on a true-life story from the last 1300s that revolved around the last known, officially recognized, judicial-ordered duel in France.

You know, the kind where if there were conflicting accounts and no witnesses to help sort through things, the two opposing parties would settle the matter in a winner take all due to the death. In this particular case, that involved Norman knight Jean de Carrouges who accused squire Jacques Le Gris of raping his wife Marguerite.

Apparently, it's something of a legend in France, but I had never heard of it and was unaware of it being the genesis of the story penned by Nicole Holofcener & Ben Affleck & Matt Damon, based on Eric Jager's 2004 book "The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France."

As helmed by legendary director Ridley Scott ("Alien," "Gladiator," and many more), the film begins with Jean (Matt Damon) and Jacques (Adam Driver) suiting up to do battle, jousting style, all as Marguerite (Jodie Comer) and Jacques' royal ally, Count Pierre d'Alenšon (Ben Affleck), look on with concern.

The story then rewinds to show us the pivotal moments leading up to what we assume will be the conclusion of the third act. But rather than do so in a singular A to Z manner, the screenwriters do so three times, "Rashomon" style where the otherwise fairly similar accounts are told by the three main players involved in the incident.

Until I realized that, I'll admit I wasn't that taken with the effort despite the handsome production design and related technical work or the solid performances from all involved. In short, I fretted that this would be yet another by-the-books medieval costume drama featuring epic (yet otherwise boring) battle scenes.

But once the story wrapped back on itself and the examination of men's dominance over women -- particularly regarding sexual matters including rape -- came to light, I found myself fully engaged with the effort. And that included wondering how things were ultimately going to play out during the titular and what turns out to be quite a brutal cumulative event.

While the script doesn't have the panache of Damon and Affleck's last collaboration on the keyboard (that being "Good Will Hunting") it's still good and the "he said, she said, he said" approach adds a nice layer of complexity to the proceedings.

Definitely not for all viewers -- it clearly earns its R rating -- "The Last Duel" is worth seeing, even if its efforts of pointing out that things haven't changed that much over the centuries regarding women and sexuality won't surprise many viewers. The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 7, 2021 / Posted October 15, 2021


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