Review: ‘The Last Duel’ is a war epic for the modern day

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Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges in 20th Century Studios’ THE LAST DUEL. Photo credit: Patrick Redmond. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. via Getty Images.

Rachel Solomon, news correspondent

Ridley Scott’s newest film “The Last Duel” is a medieval epic tackling issues that remain extremely important today. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Eric Jager. A true story, it takes place during the Hundred Years’ War in medieval France, focusing on the brutal exploitation of women for the benefit of men. 

The narrative structure of the film plays off the term “he said, she said,” dividing itself into three distinct perspectives of the story from the three central characters of the film. Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) is a stoic, down-on-his-luck knight. His wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer), accuses squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of rape. Jean de Carrogues uses her accusations as fodder to challenge Le Gris to a duel to the death, leaving Marguerite’s life in the balance. Though the three perspectives all take equal screen time, Marguerite’s perspective is emphasized definitively as the truth.

The film is expertly crafted and engaging, however, it is not for everyone. The film does not hold back on its subject matter, and it may not be suitable for all audiences. There are hyper-violent battles and scenes depicting traumatizing sexual violence. In most cases, scenes like these can appear exploitative, distasteful and unnecessary. 

However, “The Last Duel” does not take its subject matter lightly. The scenes are shot and acted in a way that underscores the horrendous nature of sexual violence, and they are purposefully difficult to watch. It is clear that the filmmakers wanted the audience to leave the theater feeling somewhat traumatized, and the film achieves that goal. In no way is it a glamourization of sexual violence. 

The use of multiple perspectives is a refreshing choice as well. A different screenwriter wrote each perspective, and the film balances these perspectives without feeling clunky or disjointed. When the same scene is replayed through a different perspective, there are plenty of small details that change based on what each character notices, and these changes demonstrate the strengths of this narrative structure. The audience is able to understand the characters on a personal level by seeing the same world through three different pairs of eyes. 

There is also a major shift between the perspectives of the men and the perspective of Marguerite. This shift is not only evident in the film’s writing, but also in the cinematography. Marguerite’s story is visually less bleak, even when her situation is far more tragic than those of the men. The camerawork helps illustrate Margurite’s outlook on the world and allows the audience to relate to her story. 

The score, set design and costumes are excellent. The film is able to completely recreate the time period it is set in, which is no small feat. The battle scenes  demonstrate the ways in which the film’s historical accuracy shines. The fighting is violent and gory which is in large part because of the armor, weapons and battle of the time. It brings the audience into this dark world of the past and doesn’t let them out until after its two-and-a-half-hour run time. Scott truly knows how to craft a great war epic. 

“The Last Duel” may be the last movie of its kind for the foreseeable future. Big historical movies like this one are rare to come by these days, and usually aren’t too strong with the box office. However, it is an expertly crafted film about the past with a powerful message for the present. For any fans of historical dramas or even just well-made films, “The Last Duel” is not a movie to miss.

“The Last Duel” is now showing in theatres.