Audacious use of the Rashomon effect elevates this epic tale of blood, sweat and tears.

Direction:Ridley Scott
Screenplay:Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Nicole Holofcener
Cast:Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Nathaniel Parker
Length:153 minutes
Rating:R

Based on true events, this historical drama takes place in 14th century France and concerns the accusation of rape made by Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer) against Jacques Le Gris (Driver) and the duel to the death her husband Sir Jean de Carrouges (Damon) challenges him (his friend and squire) to which became the last legal trial by combat in French history. 

Enter the Rashomon effect, a storytelling device used to illustrate the notorious unreliability of eyewitnesses; the truth is obscured by multiple opposing interpretations of the one scenario. Named after the 1950 film ‘Rashomon’ by Akira Kurosawa, where a murder is described in four contradictory ways by four different witnesses, ‘The Last Duel’ is told in three chapters from the diverging perspectives of its three principle characters in the order of Jean, Jacques and Marguerite. Helpfully, we are also told which one is the truth.

©2021 20th Century Studios.

A fourth soldier joins the three musketeers in the guise of Count Pierre d’Alençon (Affleck) whose finances Jacques ordered and makes sure, as a corrupt official, that no charges are brought against him.  Regarding the rape of his wife as an insult to his honour, Jean requests and is granted a duel from the King Charles VI of France which Jacques accepts to save his reputation.

At his trial it is clear that the real accused is the victim herself as Marguerite is interrogated by myriad male judges. Only then does it transpire that if her husband is killed therefore losing the duel, she will be tortured and burned alive as, in the eyes of God, she has been proven guilty, a fact of which she was unaware before making the crime public knowledge. Despite this, she continues which leads to an intense climax of gladiatorial proportions. In this regard, one may have more chance of justice by the grace of God than the judge.

©2021 20th Century Studios.

As the story progresses, Scott weaves the film into an ever richer tapestry as muscularly medieval as its period setting. Our patience is rewarded handsomely as each perspective on the one seismic incident is determined largely by their place in society, particularly their navigation of these nuances and how much control they can exert over their own story. A rare storytelling accomplishment courtesy of Affleck, Damon and Holofcener, executed commandingly by Scott.

Affleck, Damon and Driver are excellent, but Comer excels in a supporting performance that will surely place her in pole position come the next awards season. All three principle characters are versatile enough to be played by the actors of their calibre but Marguerite has the most to gain and lose and Comer makes the most of this. Her story is the last dual with both external and internal conflict where the greatest jeopardy exists in this gothic tale of life and death, right and wrong, rich and poor.  If only it were that simple. 

©2021 20th Century Studios.

In its final scene, ‘The Last Duel’ mirrors the final Hunger Games film ‘Mockingjay – Part 2’ while Marguerite stairs at us through the camera, screen and into our very being which makes for a truly haunting image. Are you willing to do what is right in spite of it all? Are you willing to take the risk in making the choice between what is right but harder and wrong but easier? At the end of the day, no one really wins the duel but rather who loses the least.

Expect recognition from awards bodies in technical categories such as costume and production design, makeup and hairstyling, sound and visual effects while inclusion for the more general picture and adapted screenplay prizes are also possible. It all depends on the competition, of course, as to how the duel will play out.  

“There is no right. There is only the power of men.”

‘The Last Duel’ is in cinemas now.