Regardless of Sir Ridley Scott‘s iconic eye, a stunner of a true story, the lush settings, refined cinematography, and all the acting talent gathered on display, the moral of The Last Duel (2021) perhaps should be that a star-studded cast does not an epic make.
Casting both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck was way too meta not to distract from the gravity of the tale told, at least for a good half of the film. Incidentally, exactly the half that the duo of stars wrote, respectively. The third part of the story, the one from the woman’s POV, was penned by Nicole Holofcener (not in the film).
The reason Damon and Affleck’s undeniable talents and obvious chemistry worked so perfectly in Good Will Hunting (which they also famously co-wrote), and so badly in The Last Duel (Affleck plays foe, Pierre d’Alençon), is that in the first one, twenty-five years ago, they were not yet well known, so their celeb baggage did not get in the way of the story on screen.
Taking on the historically greatly discussed intricacies of the last officially recognised judicial duel fought in France, in 1386, a trial by combat between Norman knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), accused of raping his wife, Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) – the film ventures into Rashomonic territory, and in that it is quite daring, particularly in employing three storytelling voices to weave the narrative thread.
However, only when the third account began to unfold, the one told from Marguerite’s angle of experiencing events, did I really start becoming involved in the story, utterly engrossed, shattered, and touched, rather than merely witnessing a well-made cinematic spectacle, emotionally removed.
Of course, this has to do with that last account actually ringing true.
Sometimes Rashomon does not work. Or too many famous faces.
And it is a real pity, because although I understand the logic of courtroom dramas, medieval ones included, and why this route was considered for the vanity and cruelty of both de Carrouges and Le Gris to be authentically depicted, in its grotesque, yet widespread absurdity – Marguerite’s was a story well worth to be told on its own.
It would had held up without the gimmickry.
Author: ©Milana Vujkov