Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Ridley Scott predominantly works in three genres — sci-fi, crime, and historical epics — but it’s been seven years since his last work in the latter of the three, and even longer since his last memorable one. The Last Duel hopes to join the ranks of his Best Picture-winning Gladiator, and while it’s as well-crafted as can be expected, it’s basically a longer, medieval version of Rashomon.
The movie follows two friends-turned-rivals who participate in a duel to the death when one accuses the other of assaulting his wife. It’s based on an interesting true story, but in both structure and content, the film plays out very similarly to Akira Kurosawa’s masterful courtroom drama from 1950.
There are four main sections to the movie — one from the perspective of each involved party, and then the eponymous duel that serves as the finale. There is some repetition in the first and second segments, as they are essentially an alternate take on the same events, whereas the third segment feels like more of an addition. And the climactic battle pays off after the slow build.
One of the more noticeable flaws of the film is that it takes a somewhat questionable approach to its themes. The storytelling device exploring multiple perspectives is an interesting way to question the idea of the truth, but the dialogue (particularly in the third act) poses some potentially problematic questions. Asking what the truth is worth feels somewhat insensitive in this situation.
The character development in the movie is also lacking in nuance. It’s clear from the beginning of the film who each of these people are, and the movie doesn’t explore anything beyond the basic archetypes. Even the protagonist’s arc, coming to terms with his own desire for honor and notoriety, feels very cold and generic.
That said, the cast manages to do an exceptional job with their roles. Matt Damon and Adam Driver are great together, capturing the constantly shifting dynamic between the two characters extremely well. However, it is the prominent supporting players that steal the show. Ben Affleck goes all-in as the pompous lord, and Jodie Comer is cripplingly emotional in her pivotal role.
The film is as gorgeous as one would expect given the filmmaker that Scott is. The level of detail in the production design and costuming is very precise and immersive. And while there aren’t many scenes in the movie that have much violence, those scenes which do are viscerally brutal.
The Last Duel is entirely solid, but one expects no less from such an established filmmaker. Although there are a few really brilliant moments, it’s mostly just an all-around entertaining and well-shot epic.
The Last Duel hits theaters on October 15.