One Liner Review:

One hell of a movie, this is the kind we don’t get anymore… smart, historical, and battle ready.

Brief Review:

A very impressive and compelling movie, The Last Duel tells the story of a rape during the time of the middle ages, and it tells it from three different points of view. There’s the husband of the victim, the victim herself, and the man who does the rape. And each of these characters has a hell of a story. There are battles here and land disputes and historical context. It is all fascinating and in the hands of screenwriters and stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, we get some very rich dialogue and detailed situations. In the hands of director Ridley Scott we get gritty realism and fantastic action. This one is a winner in nearly all ways. It is a little too long, and does start to drag just a bit in the final story, but even still, this movie does things that most movies wouldn’t dare to gamble on, and for the most part it pulls them off.

REVIEW:

Now this is impressive. A battle movie told in a Rashomon format directed by Ridley Scott (the best battle director out there,) starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in the first movie they have reunited for since Good Will Hunting. Let’s begin by talking about whether or not this really is a battle movie. There aren’t a ton of battles. Maybe three. And they aren’t all especially long. But even still, we haven’t seen anything like this since Gladiator and Braveheart. And Scott, of course made Gladiator. He also made Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood. He even made Black Hawk Down. Scott is the best battle director out there, hands down, and he shows it here. There are roughly two battle scenes that take place during the course of the movie, both involving Matt Damon’s character, Jean de Carrouges. He’s a guy who is impulsive and loves to fight, and is also quite good at it. And then of course there’s the final duel, to which the title refers, and that one is shown in long, glorious detail. So, yes, this is most definitely a battle movie.

The story here is also incredibly fascinating. Now, the movie does feel a bit too long, and that is probably due to the three different versions we get of the same story (and also the fact that it is a two and a half hour movie.) They could have definitely trimmed some of each of these stories. But it is also kind of cool getting to see the same thing from different points of view. And what’s really interesting about it is that for the most part, the circumstances don’t change all that much. Characters still say the same things they said, in each story, and it’s just simple things like looks characters give each other, or the tone they say things in that change. This might be oversimplifying it a little, but the fact is in a story about rape, we don’t get two completely different points of view where in one story it’s rape and in another story it’s not. That’s what you would expect to see in this movie, when you here it’s got a Rashomon technique, but you don’t. And that’s an incredibly bold choice that was made here.

Before we go any further, let’s be clear about what Rashmon is. It’s an Akira Kurosawa movie made in 1950, in black and white, about four characters who are involved in a rape. These are samurai warriors and the event happens under the awning of a temple during a rainstorm. During the movie, we see the incident from each of their points of view. It was an experimental film, and it worked. Audiences had never seen anything like it before, and it is still remembered for all of that today. The Last Duel is certainly going for the same kind of thing, showing us three different versions of its story. First we see Jean de Carrouges’ version. Then we see the version of the man who did the rape, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver.) And finally we see the version of the woman who was raped, Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer.)

The way that Ben Affleck fits into all of this is that he is the lord who both Carrouges and Le Gris serve under. He has the power to do whatever he wants with all the land in his domain, despite who owns it and whose family has always owned it. Affleck plays Count Pierre d’Alencon, and it should be noted that not only does this movie star both Affleck and Damon as their reuniting movie, but it was also written by both of them together (something else that they are known for doing, from Good Will Hunting.) They enlisted a third person to help them do the writing, Nicole Holofcener, who wrote the female part of Jodie Comer. That was a smart move, and definitely gave the movie some more credibility, especially considering its sensitive subject matter. And there you had it. The perfect formula. The perfect writers, the perfect director, and the perfect cast. What could go wrong?

The truth is, as good as the movie is, (and boy is it special,) there are still some problems. Mainly the length and the names. It isn’t easy to keep track of these names. But we know who the characters are based on their familiar faces, and so the names issue isn’t really a problem. Other than that, this movie absolutely works, and that all starts with the story. Carrogres and Le Gris start out as friends, fighting in a battle together. They come back and accept their victory and acclaims from Pierre. Then they go off their separate ways and we meet Carrogres’ parents in their nice, large castle of a home. Only there’s a problem. Pierre has ordered all of his vassals (the homes that are under his domain,) to pay war taxes, and for Carrogres, it’s pretty steep. And the person who Pierre appoints to collect that is Le Gris. Since Le Gris and Carrogres are friends, however, Le Gris tells Carrogres that he will go back to the Pierre and explain the situation and ask for leniency on his friend’s behalf.

Not long after this, Carrogres marries in order to get more money. He marries  Marguerite, who comes from a very wealthy family that owns a ton of land. Only there’s a problem. A huge chunk of the land that Carrogres was expecting to be a part of his dowry has been taken away from Marguerite’s father by Pierre. To make things worse, Pierre has given the land to Le Gris. This infuriates Carrogres, who thought he was going about things the right way in order to get the land, marrying for it, only to see Pierre do whatever he wants with it, and just give it away. Carrogres is also furious because the man who is receiving it is someone that he considered a friend. At this point, Carrogres attempts to sue for the land, and the case goes up to an even higher authority than Pierre. King Charles is a young boy, and yet he is the royalty name and authority who is in charge. Pierre is his cousin. Therefore, King Charles easily dismissed the case.

At this point, Pierre decides that Carrogres has been insubordinate and must pay. It isn’t enough that Pierre won and that Carrogres’ case was not even heard at all, but just the idea that this man would try to sue him needs to be punished. And so he takes a fort away from Carrogres that his family has owned for generations, and he gives it to Le Gris. You can imagine how Carrogres reacts. Talk about stacking the cards for these two to hate each other. By the time the rape actually happens, Carrogres is already more than ready to fight to the death against Le Gris. And that’s a huge factor in all of this. Carrogres challenges Le Gris to a duel after learning of the rape, but a question that hangs over all of their heads is whether he is really doing it because of the rape, or he is doing it because of all the injustices he felt have been done to him by Le Gris, before that.

 

We continue to travel through the three stories, or three takes on the same story for some time. And what’s really cool is that each take adds a little more to the picture. We now see scenes from different angles, or see scenes that were happening in the background of the other stories, now up close. So we learn a lot about Pierre, for example, from watching Le Gris’ story. Ben Affleck was apparently once slated to play the Le Gris role, and then opted to take the smaller part of Pierre. It works. He fits this role nicely, as a supporting player who brings the evilness of his character to life in a very realistic manner. You can imagine this guy, who has never heard the word “no,” before, existing in this sort of way. Similar things can be said about the Le Gris character, who clearly rapes Marguerite, and yet still believes that he didn’t. We see the seeds that would lead to him having such a belief, chasing a woman around in an earlier scene, where it really was just a game. He even utters the same dialogue in that scene that he says during the rape, “if you run, I will only chase you,” implying that he can’t really tell the difference, or doesn’t care to.

 

It is Marguerite’s story that is told last, and while it is clearly intentional, it does make the movie feel a little too long. Especially when the story starts getting into things like the way that Carrogres ran his land and taxes, and how while he is away at war, Marguerite realizes that he did not keep records or make people pay him. We get extra details like this, or like the side story about her having a special dress made for herself, and how Carrogres rejects it when he finally comes home from war. It’s all somewhat interesting, but at this point in the story, when we are expecting things to build up and get even more exciting, it feels like kind of a step back. These are the kinds of details one might expect to find earlier on in the film, when things could take a somewhat slower pace, not at these later parts. But the movie does come out of it nicely, leading up to a brief trial and then the duel itself, all of which are incredibly exciting.

 

The trial is both horrifying and entertaining, as we hear ridiculous claims being made about what is and is not considered rape, by authoritative figures. We also learn that if Carrogres loses the duel, Marguerrite will be burned at the stake. And then we get the fight itself, shown in glorious detail. This is Ridley Scott showing what he does best. Every move and gesture is perfectly captured. The violence is gritty and real. And it all punctuates what was an already excellent movie. This is absolutely one of, if not the, best films of the year. It’s nice to see that when talents with proven track record come to the plate, they do not disappoint. There’s a reason why Damon and Affleck are movie stars with such longevity that they have stayed in the public eye ever since Good Will Hunting. Not everything they have done has been great (especially in Affleck’s case,) but when they create the work themselves, the results tend to be pretty good. Just look at Affleck as a director, having made Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo (of course there is also his one stinker, Live By Night, but three out of four ain’t bad.) The Last Duel in particular marks a very ambitious and gutsy project and it’s pretty cool that these guys waited for so long to reunite and not only star in a movie together again (well, there was Dogma, but that was mostly a favor to Kevin Smith for helping get Good Will Hunting made,) but to write it together as well. This is one hell of a movie.