Written by: Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon
Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck
It’s often said in any altercation where there are opposing sides there are two accounts and the truth lies in the middle. Something that can be assumed to be correct barring some specific circumstances, with one of them being the subject material in The Last Duel. One definitive truth but one not believed at face value because of the one stating it.
Following the Caroline War, Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) find themselves in opposite positions financially. Jean must marry for the dowry where he joins in a union with Marguerite (Jodie Comer) while Jacques strikes a friendship with Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck) who oversees the entire area. After Jacques violently rapes Marguerite and she reports the crime, it causes Jean to charge Jacques and challenge him to a duel to the death.
Told through the three perspectives of the main characters, this feature takes on a bold form of storytelling made famous by Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Rashomon. Doing this with an incident revolving around a violent rape adds another element to it in regards to believability. In our modern age, women have a hard time being believed when they make their accusations, which gives you an idea of how Marguerite’s assertion would get received in a far less progressive time. Despite the tall task set ahead of it, this feature proves to be incredibly well-constructed and very intelligent, particularly when it gets to the final and truthful chapter.
Broken into three parts displaying the same events through the three perspectives, this feature runs into the danger of being repetitive by nature. However, the devil is in the details, and picking up on them based on who tells this story makes a monumental difference. Each little instance can be pointed out but specifically, it becomes obvious the perspective of the two men provides flattering portraits of what actually occurred. In the instance of Jacques, he wrongly sees the rape as a reciprocation of affection while Jean sees himself as a gallant hero in all of this while Marguerite’s truthful account shows more selfish actions from her husband. Whether it be in the words said or a different interpretation each of these events happen the same way but get told to make one look better, except for Marguerite, who has the truth.
Her perspective shows she lives in a world where women could not be believed when making such an accusation. Then you have the horribly backward beliefs of her pregnancy following what occurred and the dreadful belief that she could not have been impregnated if it was actually rape and not consensual. Yeah, this film takes you on a trip, but it all seeks to highlight that no matter what, during this period of time, her fate has never been in her hands. Whether it is being married off to Jean for the dowry and the duel deciding her fate as well as the person who dies on the arena floor.
It comes as no surprise Nicole Holofcener stepped in to write Marguerite’s version of the truth as the quality of the writing jumped up significantly. With the initial uproar of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck penning the script, the addition of Holofcener allowed for some hope. With no disrespect to the two men, but the way the third account of the events completely laps the other two showed having Holofcener joining was the best decision the development side of the feature made. However, all three have their quality, and all play into the idea of different individuals interpreting events and thus putting their own twist on it.
As topical and incredibly well-made as this film proved to be there needs to be some attention put on the actors who do a tremendous job here. The best-in-show proved to be the least experienced of all involved, Jodie Comer. Portraying Marguerite allowed her to shine brightly as an actor as she takes the entire production as a highlight reel for herself. She takes on every scene and commands the screen in capturing all of the emotions her character goes through. Stunning work on her part but second-best proved to be Ben Affleck, who knew what he signed up for in this role. Completely having a blast with the playboy character of Count Pierre d’Alençon, he makes all of the comedic remarks like an absolute pro. Nearly every line of dialogue the man delivers is genuinely hilarious seeing as he has no care for the rules and the demeanor he has to present. He simply just wants to have fun with his friends and the ladies of his court. With all of the serious action and discussion taking place throughout this feature, he proved to be a good source of comedic relief when a break was needed.
Difficult to get through in moments but ultimately an important story, The Last Duel achieves greatness with its challenging task. It takes something so harrowing and formulates a vital story about the importance of the truth and who holds it in these sensitive situations. This situation certainly inspires thought on many parallels to our current age and the way these allegations get handled. We have not come nearly as far as we should but at least we’ve progressed past this barbaric nonsense.