The film (based on a book by UCLA English prof Eric Jager) gets its title from the fact that the duel depicted was the last (judicially-sanctioned) trial by combat in France. Originally, two of the three writers of the project (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) were to play the two leading roles. However, Adam Driver took over from Affleck (as he had another movie to do), and Affleck stepped into a smaller/supporting role. The third screenwriter is Nicole Holofcener; she previously wrote Can You Every Forgive Me? (2018), Enough Said (2013), and Friends with Money (2006). Both Driver and British actress Jodie Comer (best known for Killing Eve) played a small role in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019), although they didn’t share a scene.
The true story of a woman who defied a nation and made history. -Tagline for the film
On March13, 2020, production was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Filming in France was finished; the production had moved to Ireland. Director Ridley Scott had already filmed for 4 wks; he had 1 hr. completed. There was a (brief) time when it was in theaters (NOV 2021). Before its streaming release, I recall seeing the opening (7 mins.) on YouTube. The filmmakers were inspired by the structure of Akira Kurosawa’s Roshomon (1950); I saw that classic (1st time) a few mos. ago. The Last Duel was recently listed as one of former Pres. Obama’s Favorite Films of 2021.
This movie is divided into 3 chapters w/ shorter bookends depicting the duel. At this time, rape was NOT considered a crime against a woman, BUT a crime against a man (EX: her father or husband) as a violation of his property rights. The duel in this case is NOT about showing the men’s skill in fighting, it’s a process of trial and judgment. First, we see events from the POV of a knight- Jean de Carrouges (Damon); then from the POV of a squire- Jacques Le Gris (Driver); finally, the POV of Jean’s young wife- Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer). There are scenes depicting the Battle of Limoges (1370); the enemy are the Britons. The Black Death (and tragedies this plague caused) is mentioned. In 1377, the Jean and Jacques become vassals of Count Pierre d’Alencon (Affleck), one of the wealthiest barons in France and a cousin of King Charles VI.
Some have called this a “medieval #MeToo” story showing “toxic masculinity.” This is NOT for more sensitive viewers; there is strong language, nudity, violence (in various settings), sexual assault, and misogyny (reflective of the time depicted). The running time (2 hr. 32 mins.) could also be a turn-off for others, though it looks like movies (of ALL genres) are getting long these days. The duel takes up about 20 mins. of the story; it’s exciting, bloody, and V brutal. I was on the edge of my seat, as Jean and Jacques made (unexpected) moves at some moments. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones, then the fighting/action here won’t be shocking.
The acting and the dialogue are the main reasons to see this film, IF you haven’t been put-off by now! I thought that most of the actors did a fine job. The accents used are NOT all quite British; one viewer thought they sounded like those at a Renaissance fair (LOL)! I watched this movie mainly for Driver, as he is my (current) fave actor; he continues to impress (and NOT just w/ the muscles, which we see in one scene). Comer (tall, beautiful, strong, yet able to also be vulnerable) is the stand-out; she is under 30 (and deserves to have a big career). I don’t know why she wasn’t recognized w/ any awards! I think Damon is a good actor, though here his look is more modern than medieval. Many viewers complained re: Damon’s (mullet-like) hairstyle and the scar on one side of his face. Others thought Affleck was miscast. Affleck’s personal life has been in the media a LOT; this will (no doubt) influence viewers. I can’t forget veteran character actress Harriet Walter (Jean’s mother); she does V well w/ in her scenes.
The locations, settings (incl. real castles- V cool), wigs, costumes, armor, and ALL of the production design elements looked great to me. Of course, we’d expect the highest standards from a team working w/ Scott. I esp. liked the huge fireplaces, use of candlelight, and the capes/furs. When he has the shorter style, it’s Driver’s real hair; the longer hair is a lace-front wig. Costume designer Janty Yates said that 6 sets of armor (in different states of damage) were created for the duel- wow! Let me know what you think; I feel like this didn’t have a big audience.
 Ultimately a very well made, intelligent, highly original film with multiple layers and themes. Production values are excellent…
 …this movie is dialogue-heavy. However, with credentials like “The Gladiator”, Ridley Scott did not disappoint with the climactic, long duel finale.
 …a movie for grown-ups that deserves a grown-up audience. Let’s hope it gets the recognition it deserves.
-Excerpts from IMDB reviews
4 thoughts on “Spoiler-Free Review: “The Last Duel” (2021) starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, & Ben Affleck”
I saw this one, and was really disappointed. I thought the acting, except for Comer, was pretty miserable, Affleck in particular. I agree it was #metoo medievalism, except for me it was the issue that the filmmakers apparently decided that Marguerite’s version was “the real story” (or however they put that). The book is a lot better in this regard. Also, way too long, and I love long films. I sighed deeply in frustration when it became apparent that they were just going to retell the story repeatedly.
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Oh, I do have the book, BUT haven’t read yet! Well, I saw it as Affleck was supposed to be one-dimensional/entitled “Chad” (BUT royal/medieval ver). Many ppl hated his hair also- forgot to mention; I think that was period-accurate. Damon was maybe NOT as one-note as Affleck, BUT there are scenes where he’s putting in no emotion. Directors don’t usually do stuff w/o planning, and their choices are def NOT going to appeal to everyone. All in all, I think there is something missing from this movie- BUT can’t necessarily put my finger on it! Yes, I also heard some ppl comment that they didn’t like how they were told that you MUST believe Marguerite’s ver. Also, the men needed to be BIT more nuanced. They ALL came off as ineffective, uncaring, status-seeking, or downright criminal!
Affleck’s hair WAS period accurate.
To me (and the book’s author is aware of this issue): it’s just not the case that both the men would be trying to spin their story but the woman would be telling the truth. She also had reason to make the claims she did (whatever the reality was). In fact, given the lesser latitude that women typically had in situations like this, she would have been more likely to not have told the truth *if* it had any risk of making her look like the guilty party.
As far as what’s missing: Rashomon works because it’s fast and because it doesn’t (as I recall) tell you what the “real” story is. This film is slow (goes over exactly the same scenes repetitively) and it tells you the woman is telling the truth. (To me there’s a big problem with that, which is that Adam Driver’s character continues to maintain his innocence at the point of death. That detail read a lot differently in this historical context than it does to us.
For some medieval-style humor: