The Last Duel
Synopsis: Duel between two men in 1300’s France over a woman’s testimony. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)
Dear Diary, Scratching plans to time travel to 1380’s France. Apparently, squalor and brutality ruled. And Notre Dame not yet photo-ready. Also, the men’s hairstyles were hideous. After what I saw in The Last Duel, I’m pretty sure if you so much as looked crooked at some guy’s mini bangs, he wouldn’t hesitate to run you through with a sword. Not worth the time travel risk to see the creation of the world’s first croissant.
In his latest effort, director Ridley Scott– never one to shy away from cinematic violence — fleshes out the inhumanity of the Middle Ages with graphic depictions of bloody hand-to-hand combat and sexual assault of women. He also throws in scenes of horse abuse.
The main players in The Last Duel are best friends Damon & Affleck. Matt Damon’s knight Jean is a hotheaded fool and Ben Affleck is Pierre, a hedonistic nobleman. Adding some new filmic blood are Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) as Marguerite, the unfortunate wife of Damon’s character and Adam Driver (Marriage Story) as Jacques, an ambitious knight, who is friend to Damon and Affleck’s characters. In the movie, Pierre-Ben can’t stand Jean-Matt. Something the two actors probably had fun with, since they subconsciously despise each other.
Like filmmaker Scott’s smash Gladiator, The Last Duel opens with a battle scene rife with closeups of barbarism. I’m not sure where in Europe they were supposed to be fighting (filming was in France and Ireland), but after the battle Jean-Matt and Jacques-Adam grouse about the English (known in those times as Les Goddamns for their love of swearing) at the Middle Ages version of a cafeteria.
I had to keep reminding myself that we’re supposed to believe these peeps are French because the well-known American actors are speaking American-accented English and everyone in the film looks British Isles AF. Except Adam Driver. He is his own thing. Handsome? The debate rages on.
As I mentioned earlier, Pierre-Ben loathes his underling, Jean-Matt, and tries to screw him every chance he gets. This is because his “friend” took an abundance of credit for Good Will Hunting all those years ago. Jean-Matt is a self-righteous bastard who usually overplays his hand. Like when he made the poorly thought-out decision to play a white savior in The Great Wall.
Pierre-Ben really goes all out with method acting and why not? He could easily harken back to his halcyon years of Vegas binges to access the libertine antics of his character. In The Last Duel he has a wife who forgoes partying because she has maternal responsibilities. Hello, Jen Garner. In the movie, Pierre-Ben is really vexed because serious and sober Jean-Matt is always needling him about honor and such. Time for Ben to call up memories of Matt urging caution with the excessive Bentley-buying and JLo music videos.
I should mention that Damon and Affleck are two of the three screenwriters, with a much-needed woman’s perspective from Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing and Can You Ever Forgive Me?) Speaking of which, whomever decided on the Game of Thrones-style sexposition deserves an extended hiss. (Ben or Ridley?)
Ok, before I get to the reason for the “last duel,” I must forewarn you of the icky yet hilarious men’s hairstyles. Damon has a short mullet, mini bangs and scraggly wig-beard. The coup de grace on the look is the lack of a moustache with the beard –never acceptable. Affleck has a metro-sexualized clip with mini bangs and pompom beard; all bleached blond. Even his eyebrows. Mon Dieu. I think that both men lost a bet to someone–maybe Nicole H?
Adam Driver escapes hideous hair with a basic rock star beard, moustache and long hair look. This is the look he should’ve had when he was a centaur running along the beach in that Burberry cologne ad. Speaking of equines; I really hope that the animal protection laws are strong in Europe because the poor horses are being run at breakneck speed in every scene whether they are jousting or heading to the farrier. Hurry up, he quits at 5 pm sharp!
Okay, so there’s a toxic masculine triangle consisting of Jean-Matt, Pierre-Ben and Jacques-Adam that goes from pissing match to fight-to-the-death duel. Money and land disputes are involved but then things escalate when de facto possession of Marguerite-Jodie is called into question. Going back a bit…
Jean-Matt has been busying himself with crusading and filing lawsuits while Jacques-Adam has been partying with Pierre-Ben. One night Pierre-Ben asks Jacques-Adam how it is that he’s so learned. He reveals that he had been studying for the priesthood, which for some reason included mandatory accounting courses, along with Bible quizzes. In the end, he realized that because of other “proclivities” he was not suited to be a man of the cloth. Just a few hours before, he and Pierre-Ben had been at an orgy, so they exchange knowing, lascivious chuckles.
When not arranging piles of coins in different piles, Jacques-Adam checks out the local dating scene. Well, well, what have we here?! He lays eyes upon the most beautiful, tantalizing woman he has ever seen: Marguerite-Jodie. It’s a bit of a problem because he’s kinda friends with her husband, Jean-Matt.
At what looks like a well-catered BBQ, Jacques-Adam connives to be perusing the buffet near Marguerite-Jodie. He flirts confidently over the platters of pasta salad and mac & cheese sliders. That night he starts having steamy sex dreams that leave him bolting upright in bed, drenched in sweat. Methinks he should get himself to an apothecary for a Black Death Quik Test kit, just in case it’s the plague rather than extreme horniness.
The Last Duel is divided into three chapters, showing us the events from the perspectives of Jean-Matt, Jacques-Adam and Marguerite-Jodie. The explosive charge from Marguerite-Jodie that prompts the duel is that she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance of her husband.
The filmmakers were smart to not frame the story as he says/she says. Pre-#MeToo, the script may have defaulted to the effect of the charge on the men. But the third act shows the reality of a woman’s life negotiating an all-powerful patriarchy. Whatever the result of the duel, it will be a mere speed bump before the men can get back to business as usual: warring and whoring.
Dear Diary: As humans deal with the second of The Covid Years, it seems we have a few things in common with the Plague Years of yore: fleeing the city for the countryside (Hello,Catskills), Denial (superspreader parties) and masks (preferably high-tech fabric and not the plague doctor-style cones seasoned with herbs). Thankfully, twenty-first century improvements include: telecommuting, vaccines and streaming services. For the time being, I will avoid time travel (lots of trouble avoiding human-made catastrophes and natural disasters) and content myself with a safe place: isolating on my couch with a good movie and Covid-negative family.
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