Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's 'The Last Duel' is a tough yet important watch that'll likely get Oscar nominations
Matt Damon and Adam Driver face each other in "The Last Duel". Patrick Redmond / 20th Century Studios
"The Last Duel" is a difficult watch at times because of its plot.
The film starring Matt Damon and Adam Driver could be a trigger for abuse survivors.
Warning: There are minor spoilers for "The Last Duel".
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's first film in years can be difficult to see at times. But the historical piece also carries a contemporary feminist message that speaks of the arrogance and seemingly limitless power of men.
Based on a 2004 book, director Ridley Scott's "The Last Duel" is likely to get some Academy Award nominations for its raw performance, storytelling, and an epic battle sequence that rivals director "Gladiator" 's showdown.
Narrated in three chapters from three angles in the 14th century, the film is based on a true story of betrayal between former friends Jean Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), when the latter is accused of raping Carrouges' wife have, Marguerite (Jodie Comer).
Marguerite talks about her attack when it is dangerous for a woman to be anything but quiet and submissive to her male guardian for fear of being ostracized by her community.
With Marguerite's honor being called into question, Carrouges and Le Gris engage in a life-and-death duel, the last documented battle of its kind.
Le Gris and Carrouges fight in an epic duel. Patrick Redmond / 20th Century Studios
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon reunite in this film, but tap Nicole Holofcener for an accurate telling of the story
"The Last Duel" is not only the first time Affleck and Damon have appeared on screen together in 20 years, it is also the first script since 1997 "Good Will Hunting". The two cleverly worked on this film worked with writer and director Nicole Holofcener, each of whom wrote one of the three perspectives on the film - a brilliant story choice.
Damon wrote for his character Carrouges, Affleck wrote the Le Gris point of view, and Holofcener was hired to write for Comer to make sure they accurately capture a woman's perspective.
It's worth noting that Affleck was originally intended to play the role of Le Gris alongside Damon. Affleck later resigned and took on a smaller role in the film as Graf. Knowing this, it's hard to watch the movie and not wonder how it would have turned out since the two have been true friends for over 40 years.
As each chapter unfolds, more of the story will slowly be revealed when you look at it from a different angle.
Though you think the film will make you decide whose truth you want to believe, until the third installment the film emphasizes the words "the truth" in Marguerite's story so you know that her version of events is the one that really matters.
Jodie Comer plays Marguerite. Patrick Redmond / 20th Century Studios
It's a story format that will make you go back and re-watch sections of the film to compare and contrast the subtle differences between the viewpoints, some of which are. According to the movie's production notes, these minor differences were intentional, so the viewer would believe the current narrator at any point in the movie.
In an early scene, Jean recounts how sick he feels before a trip, but tells his wife and mother that he has to get his way and move on. When the same scene from Marguerite's Truth is told, Jean does not appear so sick.
The two perspectives of the film's rape scene are a fascinating exercise in how the same moment can be interpreted (and misinterpreted) with different eyes.
From the perspective of the driver's character, the scenario is a little more romanticized. For him, Marguerite seems to get out of her shoes before strolling upstairs to her bedroom and Jacques appears inviting.
When the scene is replayed from Marguerite's perspective, it feels even more nightmarish. The shoes are not removed as gracefully as they slip off her feet as she tries to run up the stairs to avoid Jacques' unwanted advances. The sound of his pounding up the stairs is haunting.
Adam Driver is both charming and terrifyingly haunting in "The Last Duel". 20th century studios
'The Last Duel' has a rape scene that can trigger sexual assault survivors
For those who find it difficult to see graphic images of sexual assault, "The Last Duel" can be a triggering clock as a rape is shown twice from different angles.
According to production notes, "the studio sought advice from multiple advocacy groups on depicting sexual abuse, survivors, and recovery from history." In addition, an intimacy coordinator, Ita O'Brien ("Sex Education") was on hand to ensure that any depictions of sexual violence and violence against women were, and is, "treated sensitively".
Despite the hard-to-see scene, Driver does a great job in the role, but one that's so compelling that it's especially terrifying at the end of the film. It's a clear contract, as audiences are initially bewitched by him as a beloved member of the community for the first two acts of the film, despite his misogynistic nature that anticipates the darker scene.
Comer's Marguerite has to wait over an hour to tell her side of the story (fitting, because in 14th century Europe a woman would never be allowed to speak in front of a man). Although her lines are minimal until the very last section of the film, Comer is brilliant at simply acting with her eyes, which the actress did in her expressiveness in the spy thriller series "Killing Eve".
Ben Affleck is a thief every time "The Last Duel" appears. Jessica Forde / 20th Century Studios
Ben Affleck steals every scene he plays in, but the film isn't without its problems
Although Damon and Comer perform excellently, it is Affleck who steals every scene in which he appears as Count Pierre d'Alençon, a cousin of the king.
Because as distracting as his character's platinum blonde hair is (I'm still not sure about this style decision), his performance is such a scene stealer that you almost forget how ridiculous Affleck looks because he's so convincing when he's often drunk -with-power-counting.
However, "The Last Duel" is shaky, making the audience laboriously wait until the last 20 minutes of the film to see the duel itself, which was teased at the beginning of the film. With the film opening at the end as Carrouges and Le Gris prepare for the title duel before rewinding to tell their story, for much of the beginning of the film, you are trying to figure out how these once great friends ended up in their current situation.
It's amazing to see the nerve-wracking tense scene and bit of graphics that exude vibes from Scott's former epic "Gladiator". It just takes forever to get there, especially since the movie is two hours and 20 minutes long.
The first 40 minutes are a bit tiring as you start the story from Jeans perspective. Not exactly sure where the film is headed until Marguerite suddenly reveals her attack to Jean. From then on, "The Last Duel" never slows down.
Jodie Comer's hair is styled into gorgeous looks throughout the film. Patrick Redmond / 20th Century Studios
The only other massive criticism is that it's a bit hard to believe that LeGris is actually in love with Marguerite. It's an infatuation that comes so quickly and so violently that it feels like not spending enough time building to arrive naturally.
Le Gris claims to be so deeply in love with her that it almost feels a bit forced. This is not due to Driver, but rather to the fact that not enough time was spent to put the motivation of Le Gris with Marguerite in sufficient context.
"The Last Duel" is a film that will be remembered for a long time because of its heavy material. Expect the name of this film to come about at Oscar time. In addition to the expected Oscar nicks for the script and the nicks for Affleck and Driver, the hair and makeup team will likely get a nod to the many elaborate hairstyles Comer wears throughout the film.
Regarding the ending of the film, where Marguerite's honor is fiercely defended, it's easy to wonder how much of the #MeToo movement influenced him. It feels like the story was purposely written to convey a message of feminine empowerment.
It's a beautiful tale with an important message to make women believe, but is it one we needed from three men - Affleck, Damon, and Scott? Probably not, and that is why Holofcener's contribution is crucial.
"The Last Duel" will be shown in cinemas on Friday.
Grade: B +
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