Two best friends are torn apart by their own obsessive objectives in The Last Duel.
Director Ridley Scott brings to life a true story of the ages… for the ages. Three main characters each impart their own unique perspectives on what would become the last judicial duel sanctioned by the government of France in the late 14th century. French squires Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) forge a hard-fought friendship serving side by side in critical battles against the English. Driven by integrity, de Carrouges bleeds willingly for king and country. Motivated by the politics around him, Le Gris slides easily into a leadership role as the chief counsel of Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck), commander to both men. They carry out their duties with the unwavering conviction of their disparate beliefs even as their choices work to destroy their friendship, their family and themselves.
This is the first great film for me in 2021. Scott expertly crafts a flawless deconstruction of the unholy trinity of truth, honor and avarice. He starts off by presenting the retelling of events from the perspective of Damon’s character. In so doing, you invariably grow to see him as the prime protagonist until small, but critical, details emerge in Le Gris’s recounting. The the two stories reshape and rebuild in your mind, beginning to form conclusions that are then challenged by the final testimony of de Carrouges’s wife Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer).
It’s a film where the devil is in the details. No facet is insignificant. The slightest distinction between each person’s perspective makes all of the difference. A single change of word or gesture can alter the narrative entirely. You all know the old saying that, in a tale told by two people, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Scott trades on that axiom by infusing it with a perplexing third point of view. Nothing you see can be believed, while at the same time, everything you see is indispensable. It’s like trying to assemble an intricate puzzle with pieces that change shape as you attempt to place them. In the end, you’re still not sure that you have a completed picture, but it’s beautiful all the same.
The rest of the experience is equally impressive. The soundtrack surrounds you with the perfect aural ambiance at every turn. Although Damon and Driver both feel a bit out of place, Comer’s performance quickly makes you forget such trivialities and should be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. Her every action draws you inexorably further into the plot. The sets transport you willingly to their locations. The battle sequences are exquisitely presented with an authenticity that guarantees your unshakable engagement. It’s an experience that you inhabit fully. This is what The Green Knight should have been.