‘The Last Duel’ Review: A Grand and Epic Whodunit

I feel a film like this, a big-budget adult drama released to theaters instead of streaming, is something we’ll eventually never see again…

“The Last Duel” stars Matt Damon as a 14th-century French knight who challenges his squire (Adam Driver) to a duel after his wife (Jodie Comer) accuses Driver of raping her; Ben Affleck also stars and Ridley Scott directs.

When this film was announced two years ago, the internet wasn’t sure how to react. Not only is the subject matter tough to swallow for some (two men fighting over an accused rape of one of their wives), but also because Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were going to be writing the script and both have made questionable comments about the #MeToo movement. But once Nicole Holofcener was brought into the writer’s room, the trio were tasked with writing a third of the script, with each segment being told from a different character’s perspective. And while the narrative could’ve used a bit of trimming around the edges, “The Last Duel” is a handsome yet gritty medieval epic that offers old-fashion entertainment.

Top to bottom this is a well-acted film, with each actor doing a good job portraying the type of character they need to. Matt Damon is a battle-hardened soldier who feels he is constantly being wronged and denied promotions he is owed, and it takes a toll on his marriage. As his wife, Jodie Comer continues to have her stock rise following this year’s “Free Guy.” Comer has a sense of warmth but also shy nature, until it is time for her pent-up frustration with her husband and the system comes to the surface.

As the film’s de facto antagonist, Adam Driver is as good as ever, playing Damon’s friend-turned-foe. Driver has a few moments of dry wit that he’s so good at, but also creates a character that we know we are supposed to hate, but still manages to make the audience question if Driver truly thinks he is innocent of the accused crime. Whatever cartoony character Ben Affleck is playing (the Count ruling over Damon and Driver’s region) he is having a ball, rocking a bleached-blonde goatee and being the apparent only person in 1300s France who knew how to liberally use the f-bomb. At times it can be a bit distracting, but by all accounts it’s an accurate representation of the flamboyant ruling class of the time.

The film is broken into three parts, with each person involved in the accusation telling their version of the truth. Damon wrote the first act (his character’s third-party view), Ben Affleck wrote the second (told through Driver’s male-dominant perspective), and Nicole Holofcener wrote the final act (Comer’s wife account, which the film implies is the genuine truth). There are some points where the story does get repetitive or awkwardly edited (the visceral battle sequences are fantastic but sometimes just suddenly end), but I always enjoy films like this that tell the same story from different perspectives.

“The Last Duel” is a rare type of film nowadays, a $100 million period piece with multiple stars and an A-list director. There are faults to be sure, but I think that the film handles its tricky subject matter with nuance and taste, offers modern commentary without getting in your face, and moves at a good pace despite its 153 minute runtime. I saw it on a rainy Saturday afternoon with myself and other audience members arriving at 11:30 for the 11:20 showtime; it is the closest I’ve been to feeling like the “classic” theater experience in a very long time.

Critics Rating: 8/10

20th Century Studios

2 thoughts on “‘The Last Duel’ Review: A Grand and Epic Whodunit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s