The Last Duel seems to have died a death at the international box office making $9 million worldwide in it's first week against a budget of $100 million. Despite great turns from Matt Damon, Jodie Comer and Adam Driver and super direction by Ridley Scott it's a hell of a tough sell. Based one a true story it's a muddy, bloody, two and a half hour long story about the rape of a woman and it's after effects told in the style of Akira Kurasowa's Rashomon. It's a fine film but audience indifference to it is going to be yet another nail in the coffin of this type of big budget adult film making.
France. 1386. Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Driver) are two squires fighting in the One Hundred year war against England. Count Pierre d'Alençon (Ben Affleck rocking an N'Sync haircut and a nu metal beard) has been named their overlord by King Charles VI and a wedge is driven between Jean and Jacques when Pierre takes a liking to Jacques. War taxes are levied on landowners and Jacques is tasked with collecting them, leaving Jean in a precarious state financially. To acquire more wealth he enters into a marriage with Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), collecting a large dowry from her father as a wedding gift. With his finances back in order and a new wife at hand he sets about fathering a son but is once again forced to fight for his country. On his return Margeurite informs him that she has been raped by Jacques and now the only way he can get justice is a trial by combat. Because god says the righteous can never lose.....
He can get justice. Not her. Him. It's all about him. His pain. His disgrace. His name tarnished. In the 14th century women existed to create sons for men like him. Weddings were transactional, wives were property and Ridley Scott's new film never ever shies from the horrors of medieval life for women. It's a story told in three acts, the same story from each viewpoint. The first is the truth according to Jean, then Jacques and finally Margeurite. There's subtle and not so subtle differences between all three but every difference is telling, each speaking to the mindset of the point of view we are seeing them through. Scott flits through the timelines ensuring we rarely have the see the same things repeatedly, except the pivotal moment itself, the rape scene, a gruelling act of violence we see perpetrated on Margeurite twice. It's not exploited but it's tough going each time and thankfully it's never played ambiguously, it's a violation. In the eyes of Jacques though it's only a violation of property.
Each chapter was written respectively by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener and it's her chapter that really gets to the crux of the story, toxic masculinity and the problems it breeds regarding expectation and privilege. Earlier moments shown to be charming are really shown to be predatory, facts become lies and embellishment, glances bring fear not enjoyment. A trial where the victim is painted as a harlot and a seductress shows how far society has not come in the 700 years in regards to it's treatment of women. Now we have politicians, priests and respected members of the community ling up to shake a rapist's hand. Back then the victim could be burned at the stake if the accused was found not guilty. We'll watch this and shake our heads at the horror of it all while knowing that not much has changed at all. #Metoo
The duel of the title? It certainly lives up to it's name and reminds us of how good Scott has always been at depicting the crunching physicality of medieval warfare. People will complain that it's gruelling, graphic brutality pushes Comer out of the way in the film's final act but it once again proves the film's ultimate point - to it's detriment, society will always care more about the plight of "wronged" men than anyone else. It was true 700 years ago and painfully, it's still true now.
The Last Duel is in cinemas now. It's a powerful watch but jesus it's tough going. Be warned.