Monday, 25 October 2021

Movie review: The Last Duel, dir Ridley Scott (2021)

This long movie is tight as a drum so even though I had a sore bum on occasion while sitting in the cinema, and had to shift in my set a few times, I only once felt impatient. At over 150 minutes it’s a marathon but there’s not an ounce of fat in this spectacular film.

Ben Affleck at Pierre d’Alencon is particularly good though Ridley Scott gets fabulous performances out of all of his main players. I was efficiently transported back 700 years into another world, a place where women had few rights. In the context of #MeToo, Scott’s choice of a theme is timely, his script demonstrating why human rights are so important. The broad appeal of legalisms to people – who structured their lives and beliefs around what was licit and what was illegal – have about them the kind of truth that you find in Shakespeare, so I felt that the writers got close to reality. How refreshing! A window into a lost world awaits the committed filmgoer.

I met a friend who loves history at Palace Cinema in Central Park and while we waited for the session to start we sat on a sofa looking out over the square where the brewery used to stand. The rhythms of the old industrial buildings have been replicated in the lines of the new apartment block built nearby, demonstrating how we privilege the old nowadays at a time when we’re shooting forward so rapidly it makes many people’s head spin. We lose our heads on occasion but cultural products like ‘The Last Duel’ can help to anchor us if we take the time to think about how lucky we are.

Even though the law has changed however, there’s still a way to go before things reach a point of equilibrium that we can all be happy with. After the movie my friend and I went to Spice Alley (getting the go-ahead from staff at the entrance who checked out vaccine passports) and later, during our conversation in the Agincourt Hotel (the name with historical resonance in the context of the movie because it celebrates a later English victory over the French) we both congratulated the state government on its decision to build more domestic violence shelters. Protecting women and children is still a public matter.

D’Alencon is important because of his animus against Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), who marries the daughter of a woman whose father had earlier sided with the English against a French king. De Carrouges has to fight for his privileges and when d’Alencon decides to gift an official role not to de Carrouges, whose father had once held it, but instead to Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver), de Carrouges’ friend, the two men’s relationship sours.

This isn’t the end of the conflict however, and when de Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) gets involved things spiral out of control. The legal arguments are mirrored by the battle scenes, the community at the time becoming caught up in drama where the rights and desires of individuals are in conflict with those of the state and of other individuals. Even today courtroom drama is common, let alone police procedurals (so much so that they seem a dime-a-dozen), so the essential truth of ‘The Last Duel’, which refuses to pornographise poverty, is revealed in its nuance. In fact this subtlety is probably why the film has done so badly at the box office. It’s too grey to appeal to Americans who, on the strength of the argument raised by this movie’s slow ticket sales, appear to need absolutely good or absolutely bad characters. I was entranced. 


Wait a minute! If you’ve enjoyed this review you can read more at my Patreon – but you’d have to subscribe. It’s a small cost for regular book reviews that are as incisive and elegant as what you’ve just sampled. Your support is much appreciated …

No comments: