The Last Duel -B+
Rated R, 153 minutes
Intense and well-acted, the new fact-based drama "The Last Duel" is a compelling critique of age-old misogyny, drawn out to epic length. Directed by the acclaimed Ridley Scott ("The Martian") and co-written by leads Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, along with Nicole Holofcener ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?"), isn't perfect, but will leave you much to talk about after you leave the theater.
Jean de Carrouges (Damon) is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Jacques Le Gris (Oscar-nominee Adam Driver) is a squire whose intelligence and eloquence makes him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Le Gris viciously assaults Carrouges' wife Marguerite (Emmy-winner Jodie Comer of "Killing Eve" excellent here), she steps forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God's hands.
"The Last Duel" is a stylish yet thought-provoking tale that essentially takes the "Me Too" movement and drops it into a time long, long ago when conflicts were often settled in bloodshed. It's based on Eric Jager's non-fiction book "The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France" and tells the story of what is the last known duel in France between Carrouges and Le Gris that would not end well for one of the men.
Scott deftly handles the material with his customary strong visual touches, and brings to life Medieval France with sublime production values, including a bold score from prolific composer Harry Gregson-Williams, and the gritty photography from Oscar-nominee Dariusz Wolski, who has worked with Scott many times before, not to mention the detailed sets and costumes. However, it's the excellent performances from the leads that help carry the film through the film's sluggish middle section.
Damon and Driver are both solid as the two who battle it out, even as they or any of the cast wisely do not make any attempts for French accents, which could've been distracting. Affleck's role, as Le Gris's flamboyant, womanizing boss Count Pierre d'Alencon, is a supporting one, but still adds some important context to the story. It's Comer, an Emmy-winner for TV's "Killing Eve" and seen in the recent "Free Guy," who is the heart of the film, providing crucial insight into how women were treated; she has many heartbreaking scenes, particularly in the courtroom, where she is subject to humiliating interrogation by the men, not to mention the brutal rape scene, which tougher to watch than any of the film's violent battle scenes.
"The Last Duel," as much as it gets right, isn't perfect. It's about 20 minutes too long, with an uneven second act that could've been tightened to focus more on Marguerite's backstory than the two men, both of whom are largely unsympathetic, and their battle field exploits. And yes, it's quite bloody, but the climactic, crowd-pleasing duel is skillfully choreographed and faithfully adheres to the real story. "The Last Duel" is worthy of your time, and more importantly, of awards consideration for the excellent Comer, who carries the film.