‘The Last Duel’: Great performances in an overly long runtime

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This weekend marked the release of Ridley Scott’s latest medieval epic, “The Last Duel.” The film stars Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck. 

Taking place in 14th century France, the film tells the story of the duel between Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Driver), which was the last sanctioned battle to the death in France’s history. Comer’s character, Marguerite de Carrouges, plays a major role in the plot line, but I would recommend going into this movie knowing as little as possible. 

Overall, there is a lot to like about “The Last Duel.” 

Scott is a legendary director and he is at full force in this film. The film is a mix of historical drama and action, which Scott blends quite well, delivering a dramatic picture with some brilliantly directed sequences of action. My only complaint about the visuals of “The Last Duel” is that they lean heavily into a desaturated grayscale style, which may not be adored by all viewers. That being said, this is a story of a dour nature and such a color palette does lend itself nicely to this film, at least tonally speaking. 

The best parts of the film are the performances from the lead actors. Damon and Affleck are solid in this film, but Driver and Comer are the ones who really shine. Driver plays a difficult character in Le Gris, one that can be easily overplayed by an actor. Luckily for the audience, Driver plays him masterfully, giving the character greater emotional depth than other lesser actors would give such a person. I can certainly see Driver earning a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars — if the awards buzz continues to hold for this film. 

The actor that shines the brightest in this film is Comer. She is amazing in this film, delivering scene after scene with raw emotion that truly resonates with the audience. In what is only her second major role in a feature film, Comer puts in a performance that certainly cements her as one of the best young actresses working today. Because of how good her performance is, I think she is almost a lock to earn a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. 

While the film is well-directed and well-acted, there is definitely some room for improvement in “The Last Duel.” 

My main gripe with the film is the length. While this is an epic, dramatic story, there is no reason for this film to be over two and a half hours long. It also doesn’t help that the cyclical story structure of this film causes us to see the same scenes several times. The pace starts to improve near the end of the picture, as this repetitiveness wanes and we start to see the film’s best scenes. I wish the film cut some of the scenes in the first few to get the runtime closer to two hours, as the film would be significantly better paced. 

In terms of thematic messaging, I think “The Last Duel” does a commendable job delivering a period-set story with modern themes. The plot relates to the Me-Too movement of our era, while taking place in an era of the past. Though the film does have strong thematic messaging in that regard, you can’t help but compare it to films of similar content released in the past few years. The movie that immediately comes to mind for me is last year’s “Promising Young Woman” which dealt with many of the same themes and issues. While “The Last Duel” and that film are completely different, “Promising Young Woman” is a much more clever story and is far more effective in its thematic resonance. Though there are some clever elements in “The Last Duel” in terms of the characters and story developments, one cannot avoid comparison to other similarly-themed films. 

This film is poorly paced, but the performances, story and visuals make up for it enough for me to give this film a moderate recommendation. 

Rating: 4.15/5 

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