Humanity’s greatest flaw is its lack of communication. Honesty bends to the will of the profitable. 1386 isn’t vastly different from the victims of 2021. There are certainly far more significant strides to be made. The story of a knight serving under Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck) raping another knight’s wife was considered but disparaged by men in power. The Weinstein’s and Cosbys of the world are just a mere chip in the wood of a log that needs a chainsaw to chop it down. For what the film has to say, it says it well. Multiple accounts of a similar horrific event are told. Both have the same sequence of events, but the way little details play out is dramatically different.
The rape of Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) is revolting from either account. Seeing it initially from Jacques LeGris’s (Adam Driver) viewpoint, the struggle Carrouges puts up is minimal compared to her account. Either way, rape is rape. But considering it’s a group of men deciding the fate of a woman, the disgusting details must tap into the juror’s limited primordial nature of drawing the line. Carrouges’ perspective of the fatal event (including the film’s third act) is written by Nicole Holofcener, where LeGris’ is written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. I wonder if the film would have been better if taken entirely from Holofencer’s perspective, seeing how much stronger the third act is compared to the rest of the film. Oddly, the imbalance worked for me as this is a film about how the accounts of one sex can be very different than the others based upon how each sex remembers it.
The way facts and details change throughout the film is striking. Jean de Carrouges’ (Matt Damon) reaction to his wife’s news that his best friend violated her is handled with aggressiveness but love when the scene first plays out. Later, when the same scene happens again, Carrouges becomes an abuser himself, insisting his wife sleep with him so he can prove his manliness. The musings between Count Pierre and Jacques LeGris regarding the incident are sickening. Piere’s best advice to his favorite knight is “deny, deny, deny.” Whether someone was hurt or not didn’t matter; what matters is that the guys in power don’t look bad.
Ridley Scott’s directorial talents in the technical departments shine in The Last Duel. Longtime Scott Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski paints the frame in blue for an overcast and cold winter centered in medieval France. Janty Yates’ costume design lends itself well to the narrative, emphasizing the sheer weight that clothing must have been. The sound design is heavy. Each boot-step signals a sign of power and intimidation the King’s men used to their advantage. Aside from the cast’s hygiene, which always seems conveniently fresh for 1386, the authenticity in the design is stunning the whole way through.
Equally stunning is Jodie Comer’s performance, which, I don’t know what more you could ask as an academy voter for an actress to give. Having to carry what’s close to a star vehicle for all the male leads, Comer proves once more how the brits can outact the Americans any day out of the week. Two guys from Boston and another from Indiana don’t scream 13th century Medieval France. Since two of the stars are also the screenwriters on the project, Mr. Scott decides to go with everyone’s natural accent with a touch of genteelness attached at the end. The results are mostly successful.
Given Adam Driver’s swollenness and military background, it’s easy to see him as a knight in an alternate timeline. His larger-than-life presence, coupled with his politeness, make his character believable. He never seems completely demonstrable upfront, but privately he’s a different person. Ben Affleck is a big surprise here. He does a remarkable job playing an obnoxious yet brilliant ruler who is a sexual deviant himself. Perhaps not to the extent of his friend LeGrig, as far as we know. The weakest link in the cast is Matt Damon, who has the most screen time. If he attached any sense of leisureliness to his accent, I didn’t notice it. Damon relies a lot on his makeup, which is pretty good, so I can’t blame him. Those scars look very believable.
The story is split into three chapters and told out of continuity, like a Quentin Tarantino film. That is if he made a morally challenging, depressing Medieval drama. Most people might not enjoy this structure. I certainly was thrown off initially, but as the story progressed, I like how it has something to say about how we communicate as a species. If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that hardly anything works. From our day jobs to our political system, hardly anyone relays important information effectively with each other because there’s no transparency. When certain people are put on a pedestal, penance for their sins is not paid. They were able to navigate around all the channels of crossed signals and make it to the top. Now they’re untouchable.
A prime reason the story of Marguerite de Carrouges’ rape is told today other than its reflections is because Jacques LeGris was challenged to the death from her husband for his actions. What other cases were swept under the rug during such times? What cases still get ignored? More than we can care to admit. What The Last Duel has to say about humanity’s inability to work intelligently with one another is as telling as its sins, which may, or rather, will never find forgiveness—only more bloodshed.
When the film comes out on October 15 in Theaters, I hope you’ll agree with my rating. If not let me know why respectfully.