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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

The Last Duel review: Ridley Scott shines the light on delusions of men

The Last Duel movie review: The Last Duel engages with the idea of consent (if not too convincingly), the torture of a trial, the cost of silence, and the often-greater price of speaking up for women.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi |
Updated: October 23, 2021 8:52:02 am
The Last DuelThe Last Duel has hit theatres across India.

The Last Duel movie cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
The Last Duel movie director: Ridley Scott
The Last Duel movie rating: 4 stars

In the year 1386, a charge of rape led to arguably the last sanctioned duel in France’s history. This interesting factoid formed the basis for a novel by Eric Jager. Director Ridley Scott (who knows a thing or two about “honorable” men and their lust for fights), and Damon and Affleck have lent their acting and script writing talents (the first time they are co-writing since Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting) to tell this story through an interesting three-way perspective. It’s two ‘He Saids’ vs a ‘She Said’, informed by MeToo, and acutely conscious of the dubious glory in which men cover themselves as “protectors”. There is a third screenwriter as well, Nicole Holofcener.

The first part is the perspective of the husband, Sir Jean de Carrouges (Damon). He is a man raised to fight, and to do little else, never having learnt to read, write, or show love other than for procreation. He is silly, obstinate, foolhardy, brave enough to be a knight, but nursing at all times a grudge for having been “wronged”. Damon wears his hair in an unflattering cut, and fills out this unfortunate character rather well in all its rough edges and weak points.

The second episode is told through the eyes of the alleged rapist and Carrouges’s former friend, Jacques Le Gris (Driver). Le Gris is born poor, but ambitious, good-looking and well-read, and uses those talents well to inveigle his way into the inner circle of Pierre (a decadent Affleck), the King’s cousin who rules these parts. Driver plays the role with flourish, though the film does not allow Le Gris the shades of grey which would have served him better. Le Gris was once a godfather to Carrouges’s dead son, and harbours a lingering affection for the latter, even as he makes gains with Pierre at Carrouges’ cost.

The third episode, the most effective, satisfying, and unfortunately truncated, is the story of Lady Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer) in her own words. Left for the last, Holofcener gives us a succinct character sketch of a woman in medieval France, treated like chattel, first by father, then by husband, and lastly by a man she even secretly admired. Having already run through the story twice in the first and second parts (against a consistently cold, bleak landscape), the film is not interested in the details as much here as in Marguerite herself, who is much more intelligent and lovelier than her husband, and is forced to play second-fiddle, reined in by a husband who knows no other way, and watched over by an unforgiving mother-in-law.

Comer, who is not very expressive with her acting, could have done with more passion in her portrayal. However, there is no escaping the humiliation and pain that are heaped on her — including in Carrouges’s subsequent battle for her honour. The Last Duel engages with the idea of consent (if not too convincingly), the torture of a trial, the cost of silence, and the often-greater price of speaking up for women. However, where it is on most solid ground is in conveying the delusions of men.

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