Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” is a gorgeous, brutal medieval tale told from three differing perspectives. It is brilliantly directed and highlights the importance of communication, nuance, and context. Unfortunately, some of its cruel depictions in regards to our treatment of women, are still depressingly relevant.
Context is the name of the game here. The film opens on a vast medieval stadium as a duel is about to take place. The scope is big, and the visuals are breathtaking, but we’ve got no concept of the stakes. That is by design, this whole film will be about building context around that duel. It is reminiscent of “Rashomon” by Akira Kurosawa, it utilizes an unreliable narrator as we experience the same events but from different perspectives. It is in these differences that the film really soars.
This is one of the best directed films I have seen all year. Ridley Scott is absolutely masterful and this is not an easy film to execute. This is a 12th century period piece, with French names, historical battles, and three main characters all seeing the same events in different ways, and despite that complexity, I never once felt lost. That is a testament to Ridley Scott’s talent and experience. He consistently grounded us in each scene by utilizing the same camera setups, slowly introducing differing angles only as the perspectives diverged. The sets, costumes, and cinematography were all stunning. The film showcases gorgeous landscapes and intimate candle-lit interiors. The acting is superb across the board. Jodie Comer, Adam Driver, and Matt Damon all give outstanding performances. By the end of the film, we arrive back at the titular duel, but this time with all the context we need. What follows is a riveting, heart-stopping climax and one of the most epic, cinematic scenes I have seen in a very long time.
Be aware that this film is heavy and doesnt shy away from the harsh realities of that time period, especially in regards to women. It highlights the importance of effective communication and how a little context can completely change your view of the same situation. It shows how power structures frequently reinforce immoral action and it also comments on the cyclical nature of misogyny towards our wives, mothers and daughters. For a film set in the 12th century, this is unfortunately far more relevant than one would hope.