Review: ‘The Last Duel’ entertains as a medieval #MeToo story

Jodie Comer in The Last Duel / 20th Century Studios

As the old adage goes, there’s three sides to every story: your’s, mine, and the cold hard truth.

Director Ridley Scott and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon craft a compelling medieval soap opera around that saying with their latest film “The Last Duel.”

The historical drama is based on a true story as related by author Eric Jager in his book by the same title about the last trial-by-combat duel recorded in French history way back in 1386.

The screenwriters opted to tell their story from the vantage point of the three main characters, a knight named Jean de Carrogues (Damon), his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer), and a squire named Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) to show each character’s personal view of the story.

This format creates a modern-day allegory of the #MeToo movement that caught the world’s attention before the coronavirus pandemic redirected everyone’s attention. It’s a very effective storytelling vehicle to drive this not-so-chivalrous story of blowhard men and the women who suffer from their arrogance, ignorance, and violence.

Jodie Comer and Matt Damon in The Last Duel / 20th Century Studios

As we learned in World History or Western Civilization classes, the movie details how marriages of this age were more of a business deal between a man and his bride-to-be’s father than anything else. The unions were made to preserve, retain, or attain wealth as well as create heirs. Very little of it had to do with love or true companionship. Those were just lucky byproducts if they happened to occur at all.

We first see the story from Jean’s viewpoint, then Jaques’, and finally Marguerite’s. Each telling of the tale adds more information and a bit more perspective. I assume we are supposed to recognize Marguerite’s version as the closest to the truth since it comes last and is the most detailed.

Jean and Jacques are squires together in the King’s service, and they take turns saving the other on the battlefield. Their friendship, however, goes awry when Jacques begins to accrue power as a confidant, emissary, and debt collector for party-boy Count Pierre (Ben Affleck) who views Jean as an oaf.

Before Jean marries Marguerite, Jacques coerces her father into trading a prime piece of land as payment for taxes he owes. Jean, who is also struggling financially, wanted this land for himself as part of Marguerite’s dowry. Thus a wedge is driven between the two men.

After some time, the two grudgingly bury the hatchet, but when Jacques notices the beautiful Marguerite, he must have her. While Jean is out on a campaign, Jaques seduces or rapes Marguerite, depending on whose version of the story you want to believe.

Adam Driver in The Last Duel / 20th Century Studios

Once Jean learns of Jacques’s misdeed, he sues for the rite-of-combat for revenge and his wife’s honor; however, this move puts Marguerite’s life in jeopardy because if Jean loses the joust to Jacques, Marguerite will be burned alive at the stake for bearing false witness.

Scott is a master filmmaker, and he keeps the movie moving with action and intrigue from the opening battle to the final duel between Damon and Driver, which is brutal. However, the film lacks the emotional impact of his best work.

Comer gives the standout performance in the film. It might not quite be a star-making performance, but this picture could lead to a role that is. I’m not sure I’d rank this among the best performances by Driver, Damon, or Affleck, but each one is more than solid, with Affleck having lots of fun as the amoral Count.

The movie might garner Academy-award attention, particularly in the technical categories. It is a great-looking film with stunning cinematography, sound, and costuming.

Grade: B
(R) 2 hrs. 33 mins.

New in Local Theaters

Halloween Kills (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 45 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight, 112 Drive In

Hard Luck Love Song (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 45 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback

The Last Duel (watch trailer) / (R) 2 hrs. 33 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight

Classic Corner- Hammer Films horror movies

Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, and Barbara Shelley in Dracula: Prince of Darkness / Hammer Films

If you need a little help getting into the Halloween mood, Turner Classic Movies is there for you on Thursday, Oct. 21 with a day full of Hammer Films horror movies.

The London-based studio began making films in 1934, but the company came into its own in the late 1950s through the early 1970s with a series Gothic horror and fantasy movies that featured classical monsters such as Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein, as well as much blood, gore and sexual tension as they could get away with.

While I personally prefer Universal Studio’s horror films of the 1930s and ‘40s, it’s hard to deny the potency of Hammer’s horrors with their vivid and often garish color, amped up violence, and PG-rated sexual sensationalism that could not even be suggested in films made after the Hays Code was introduced in Hollywood in 1934 until films began being rated in the late 1960s.

As a kid, I always felt a little bit dirty watching the Hammer movies, and today, I’m pretty sure that is exactly what Hammer producers and directors intended.

Are the movies quality films?

On a story level, I would have to say no for the most part. I see the movies as guilty pleasures, but Lee and Cushing do cut imposing figures on the screen. Their skills are greater than their material, in general. However, the movies are creepy, gross, and entertaining in their own way if you like horror films.

My favorite of the ones showing on Thursday is “Dracula: Prince of Darkness,” which was Lee’s second film starring as the vampire count. Interestingly enough, Lee has no lines in the movie. His Dracula, though, is menacing enough with his fierce stare and several vampiric hisses.

There is a dispute over why Lee had no lines. The actor, who was a British spy and covert operative during World War II, said in an interview that his lines for the movie were so terrible that he refused to say them. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, however, wrote in his book “Inside Hammer” that Vampires shouldn’t be chatty.

My guess is that Sangster’s version is closer to the truth, judging from some of outrageous lines Lee did utter in other movies. However, Lee’s version of the story is more fun.

On the whole, I enjoy the Dracula films more than Hammer’s Frankenstein movies, which focus mostly on the mad doctor and his dastardly exploits rather than his man-made monster, but Cushing is great as the pompous Frankenstein.

Clear some space on you DVR so you can capture all the bloody. Here’s the lineup of movies:

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965) — 6:45 a.m.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) — 8:30 a.m.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1969) — 10:15 a.m.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1970) — noon

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) — 1:45 p.m.

Crescendo (1972) —3:30 p.m.

Dracula A.D 1972 (1972) — 5:15 p.m.