Director Ridley Scott
Screenplay Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck based on the book by Eric Jager
Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter
The hard thing about period pieces is those who make them are subject to the sensibilities of the time they are being made. The historical contest between the two combatants over the honor of Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer) is a legend in France to this day. After writers Affleck and Damon had their own historical legacies “complicated” by their close association with Harvey Weinstein, it should come as no surprise they have attempted their own form of penance in the form of partnering in telling this story with Holofcener.
The story is a straightforward Roshomon that isn’t afraid to make it’s characters look dirty and unrepentant; at least not for the final two versions of the truth. Damon is Sir John, Margueritte’s husband, a seemingly honorable man brought low by Affleck’s reviled Count Pierre d’Alençon. If that weren’t enough, he is also humiliated by the assault on his wife by his former friend Jacques Le Gris (Driver).
The first version of the story is from Sir John’s viewpoint. It gives its subject a noble if not altogether unilateral vantage point. It’s difference from Driver’s version is slight, changed more by what each character sees when the other is not present than anything. The major difference is they each believe the other as owing them their life. There are smiles and glances with Marguerite that the viewer knows is different than they percieve.
The second is from that of Le Gris. He knows that he is a self made man, and has a tendency to lechery. This habit is made more prevalent with his association to the Count, who is a completely amoral sort. It’s not too hard to picture this as some sort of correlation to the relationship Affleck and Damon had with Weinstein. Driver is nuanced enough of an actor to put his antagonist into a corner of rationalization into which any flawed human might find themself. In the end, he becomes a considerably despicable person.
Marguerite’s version has the same text as the others as an introduction. As the words disappear, the last one remaining is the word “Truth.” This is to imply that neither of the previous versions are equal in the effort to exhibit as much honesty. At this point we are to understand, the real truth will come out. Sir John is a boor, who essentially cannot get her to concieve because there is no way a woman could enjoy what he does to his wife. He is essentially the first man to rape her, if we are to believe this version of things.
After the attack, which is much more brutal than the one we’re forced to witness within Le Gris’ version, she is forced to suffer indignations from her husband in multiple ways. Her Mother in Law (Walter) explains the realities of a woman of the time. This is a reality that Marguerite refuses to entertain, at the threat of death to her and dishonor for her husband.
It’s at this point we see the true jumping off point from truth. While there is no doubt women have suffered indignities through the millenia before now, most women did not aspire past the wisdom of Sir Jean’s mother. In a more proper context would put the viewpoints of both husband and wife closer than this version of events would have us believe. The reality is Sir Jean is closer to the version we see last and his wife’s view of these attributes would be closer to what we see of her husband’s truth. Gratitude is in the eye of what one feels is possible to achieve.
Marguerite and Sir John had very different ideas of what is possible than do Affleck, Damon or Holofcener in the post #metoo era. For this reason, the story as presented is as likely to be possible as is Matt Damon winning a war at the Great Wall of China.
Even so, The Last Duel is a good film made in an entertaining fashion. It is incredible to ponder 83 year old Ridley Scott putting out two films this year and then two more the next. His battle scenes are short, concise and well choreographed to tell the story without going broke while doing it. The duel of the title is a magnificent fight, even with the misaligned version of truth it’s authors want us to believe.
One might consider the prothelethstizing of The Last Duel a price to pay for being entertained by the playacting. Everyone pretending for a cause of righteousness and hopefully a little profit as a result.
(*** out of *****)