Venice 78: “The Last Duel” Review
Ridley Scott likes period movies. He has indulged in directing them throughout his career, and after "Kingdom of Heaven" (2005) and "Robin Hood" (2010), he might have a soft spot for Middle Ages action flicks. "The Last Duel" follows its predecessors in being a stereotypical, grim medieval tale with nothing new to offer but the conventional court life scenes with blacksmiths and stablemen working on harpischord tunes. Was there no sun whatsoever in the middle ages, but that constant eerie fog?
The duelists are Adam Driver and Matt Damon, the latter demanding a fight to the biter end after his wife's rape accusations. Scott presents the version of the events from the three protagonists' individual perspective, attempting to show the many facets of a single truth. Thus, he repeats the same scenes as seen by the main characters, but the points of view are pretty much identical from chapter to chapter, merely a slight change in camera angles, and they spectacularly fail to add any extra layer of understanding, thus making the unnecessary repetitions a burden to rewatch each time. They are not subjective interpretations of what is happening on screen, but mere reiterations that never disclose new details on the vicissitured portrayed.
The film's biggest missed opportunity is certainly its total lack of ambiguity. The element of mystery, what would compel the audience to follow the story with curiosity and interest, is soon wasted. If you believe the film deals with the notion of truth, consent and masculinity, if Jacques LeGris (Adam Driver) is actually guilty of the rape allegation he is accused of, you shall be massively disappointed. Ridley Scott frames his innocence/guilt, to avoid any spoiler, before the first half of the way too long film.
The frustration grows bigger since the film was expected to deal with MeToo on a compelling and original premise, taking into consideration female victimisation and possibly criticising the lack of consideration and too-easy judgemental attitude when casting our believes. An idea suggested by the involvement of Ben Affleck, who penned his first screenplay in 5 years since the MeToo allegations threatened his career. Instead, the movie turns out to be just an outdated, insignificant costume drama.
In other words, a huge miss. I hope this "duel" is truly the last.