Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodi Comer, Harriet Walter, and Ben Affleck.
Directed By Ridley Scott
Where i Watched it: HBO MAX
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The Plot:What a hard movie to market. This story revolves around a knight (Damon), his former squire (Driver), and the titular duel that comes about after a dispute involving the rape of the latter’s wife (Comer). And it is set in the 1300’s, during the reign of Charles VI.
What Works: I remember when this film was released theatrically in October, and it bombed. To be honest, I keep my ear to the ground a little less than usual throughout Covid, and I didn’t even know a film called the Last Duel was ever released. I never saw a preview or ad. My introduction to this film was an article about Ridley Scott blaming the youth of America for the failure of his film. And there’s a lot to unpack there.
I blame the studio for not being able to properly market this film, which is actually quite good, and one of the best films I’ve seen this year. I also think that Ridley Scott should have understood the complexity of turning a film like this into a 100 million dollar success. It’s not really a big violent epic, but rather a really well done character study, an exploration of three different sides to the same story, and a showcase for all actors involved.
First, Jodi Comer steals this movie, playing three entirely different versions of the same person depending on who is telling the story. The film presents itself, following a brief glance at the near ending of the film, in different chapters, telling the same basic story from three different perspectives, from Damon, Driver, and then Comer.
In each story, while every actor is essentially playing the same character, there is a scrutinized nuance to how they play the same character across each story. Which traits do they keep, and which do they change? Comer, who feels like a supporting character until the third chapter which tells the story from her perspective, is initially only seen as men would see a woman during these times, in a script deftly written by Nicole Holofcener, who knows just the right dialogue to change, and crafts the changes in each character so that initially you would believe any of these stories, though it is strongly implied that Comer’s version is the actual truth.
And through that, Comer is a force, either retreating as the script needs her, into a demure, loving, supportive wife, or into a temptress looking for a distraction. But in her final moments, we realize that Scott has opted to recount a historical “#me2” and through Comer’s performance this film soars and is complete.
That’s not to say that Damon and Driver don’t also deserve praise for having to create parallel versions of their characters, with intricate differences depending on whose story my it is. During the first chapter, when you don’t know what is ahead, it might be easy to write this film off as something unspectacular. That only comes from not knowing what this film is, and how it is structured, and you just have to accept that this movie is keeping you hanging on a need to know basis. It truly is a film that deserved more eyes than it got, and hopefully will be one of those films people slowly find over time.
What Doesn’t Work: This film is a giant gamble. you see a film like this, set in a certain time period, from the director of Gladiator and Black hawk Down, and you immediately believe that action is centric to the structure of the film. it is, after all, about a duel. But, really Scott made a character study that runs for over 2 and 1/2 hours and marketed it as the kind of film you might expect it to be. Because honestly, it’s hard to sell an epic that is centered around a rape, and largely strings you along in a did they or didn’t they structure, as we have to see the same story told three different ways. This film is so artistic in nature, it never would have been a massive box office success.
The only time I felt really like this film was going to disappoint me was when I was going through the first chapter (Damon’s story), and thinking that I still have a ton of runtime ahead of me. At first, it feels like this movie is going to drag along, but then Chapter 2 hits, and you feel refreshed. The changes start rolling in, and suddenly what you thought this movie was, is out the window, and now you’re in something completely different.
I think the movie does run the risk of losing audience during the first act, only if they don’t understand what lies ahead. It feels like we will be on one hell of a long journey to the duel, and aside from one battle sequence during the first act, it is mostly just a dramatic character study.
I’m acknowledging that as I knew nothing going in, there is still something structurally lacking in the first act to suggest to the viewers what they are actually in for. I know we’ve done the story from multiple perspectives things before, and Scott boldly chooses to tackle this film like it is in three acts. But if they audience isn’t aware of that unique structure, aside from seeing the Chapter 1, I could see how they could drift away during the first third. But I would strongly encourage them not to.
Aside from that, while all three give terrific performances, it was an odd choice to cast three American actors (Damon, Driver, Affleck) in main roles and make them learn the accent. I’m sure there are plenty of terrific British actors who could have landed the accent, instead of it feeling like they managed a passable version.
The Blind Perspective: This audio description is on point. In the action sequences, when a lot of things are happening quite fast, the narrator keeps up, giving us each bloody detail. And, later during the duel, which is also fast paced, he manages to keep as much of each intricate movement in there so we are on the edge of our seats. The duel is so important, and I was very invested, and the audio description kept up with it all and helped make this a terrific experience. Also, regarding the rape sequence, all the appropriate considerations were taken to make sure that the right terminology was always used, because it’s important to always maintain that what one person is doing, they are doing forcefully against another’s will. And it was handled as necessary.
Final Thoughts: I had no idea what I was in store for. And while I’ll admit that i was a little concerned early on with how Scott was going to actually use this extraordinary runtime, when i reached the end of the film, I truly felt like the cohesive final project was a fully realized artistic near masterpiece. While this film struggles to find its audience, and because of Scott’s already impressive career, can never be called his magnum opus, it feels like a return to form as well as a rather interesting take that couldn’t possibly come from Ridley Scott.
Add to that, a tour de force performance from Jodi Comer, as well as strong performances from the entire cast, and The Last Duel is easily the best film of 2021 that everybody missed.
Final Grade: A