REVIEW / FILM OPINION – Ridley Scott makes his comeback with “The Last Duel”, a historical drama about a rape case in the Middle Ages that resulted in one of the last legal duels.
Ridley Scott still present
Since 1977 and The Duelists, Ridley Scott has never taken more than four years to make a film. It was the time that had passed between 1492: Christopher Columbus (1992) and Groundswell (1996). And this is also what we had to wait after Alien: Covenant and All the money in the world (both released in 2017) and his new film The Last Duel. Remember thatHouse of Gucci will also be released this year. Ridley scott has therefore always remained very active with an impressive ability to touch all genres.
Thus, to launch at more than 80 years in a historical drama in the middle of the Middle Ages with all that that implies of sets, costumes and action sequences, had, at bottom, nothing exceptional for him. However, if in recent years his productions have been less memorable (Alone on Mars), not free from defects (Prometheus, Cartel), even disappointing (Robin Hood, Exodus, Alien: Covenant), it regains its splendor with The Last Duel, probably his best movie since Gladiator (2000).
The story takes place at the end of the 14th century. Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), wife of Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), accuses Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of having raped her. A true story which gave rise to one of the last legal duels in France. To tell us this story, Ridley Scott chooses to present, one after the other, the version of each protagonist. A way for him to deconstruct both the image of Jean and that of Jacques, and to strengthen our empathy for Marguerite, while criticizing the world around her.
A story of yesterday and today
Indeed, if in the first part John appears as an honorable man but surrounded by opponents of little value, the second part, from Jacques’ point of view, is less tender with him, relegating him almost to the status of a buffoon. But it’s mostly the third act, Marguerite’s “truth”, which makes it possible to realize thatthere are no heroes here. No, Jean is not a caring husband, but an egocentric man who is unaware of the cruelty of which he is capable. And no, Jacques is not a charming seducer, but a womanizer who doesn’t really know consent. Therefore, the director is not so much in a classic Hollywood approach as in a desire to bear witness to a reality, with all the horror and injustice that can entail.
Two portraits of men who say a lot about the society of the Middle Ages, but also that of today. The comparison here is then not very flattering for our time which is perhaps not so evolved. Because although The Last Duel evokes the past, what Ridley Scott (or screenwriters Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Nicole Holofcener who each wrote a part each tells us) is sadly more news. As mentioned above, consent education is essential. And the terrifying rape scene, perfectly directed by Ridley Scott, is proof of this.
In addition, the director shows the difficulties for victims to express themselvesr. Faced with little empathetic men, let this story not help, but also faced with guilty women. Marguerite is then terribly alone, but never reduced to the status of victim. To embody it, Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) delivers an excellent performance, at the level of his male companions that are Matt Damon and Adam Driver.
The Last Duel, excellence at all levels
With The Last Duel, Ridley Scott therefore moves away from the epic aspect that can be associated with chivalry and withdraw any form of romanticism that we could have in Gladiator Where Kingdom of Heaven. Here, it is the drama that he wishes to highlight. This does not prevent it from offering muscular sequences perfectly staged. This is the case with a first battle quickly dispatched which reminds us that he is still one of the only ones able to film sword and horse fighting with equal realism.
While digital is now too often visible on the screen, Ridley Scott makes old-fashioned cinema (in a good sense), which manages to make people forget about special effects. He also proves it in the final scene of the expected duel. An extremely tense sequence in which the spectator’s anger is concentrated since, on the result of this duel, Marguerite’s fate will depend ….