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A fine film with a superb presentation 4 Stars

The Last Duel represents a filmmaker in command of his craft, actors offering commanding performances, and uncompromising and strong production values. Filmed during the difficult and uncertain early months of the global pandemic, it went through exceedingly difficult circumstances just to finish filming only to find the conditions of theatrical exhibition changed and uncertain, too, and audiences stayed away. The film’s box office failure, though, is no indicator of its quality. The theatrical landscape may have changed, irrevocably, but I hold out hope that films like The Last Duel will find their way back to the movie theaters, along with middle-aged and older audiences, bringing a little balance back to the variety of films on offer. The Last Duel deserves an audience and I hope there’s redemption on home video.

The Last Duel (2021)
Released: 15 Oct 2021
Rated: R
Runtime: 152 min
Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Action, Drama, History
Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer
Writer(s): Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon
Plot: King Charles VI declares that Knight Jean de Carrouges settle his dispute with his squire by challenging him to a duel.
IMDB rating: 7.7
MetaScore: 67

Disc Information
Studio: Disney
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr. 33 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: Standard 4k with sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 12/14/2021
MSRP: $29.99

The Production: 4/5

“The truth does not matter, there is only the power of men.”

In the brutality of a battle during the Caroline War, French squire Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) strikes a friendship with squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver). Following the war, de Carrouges falls on hard financial times and earns the ire of Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck), to whom he and Le Gris have sworn fealty. Le Gris finds his fortunes rising as trusted advisor and ally to the Count. de Carrouges and Le Gris cross paths several times and their friendship quickly sours into a bitter rivalry. To reverse his financial fortunes and wilted social standing, de Carrouges marries Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), a beautiful, intelligent women for whom de Carrouges receives a large dowry and estate offering. One day, while de Carrouges is off fighting the Scottish in another failed military campaign, Le Gris arrives at his rival’s estate and has an incident with de Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite, who informs her husband. The allegation of rape and subsequent legal battle results in the last dual to take place in France.

Ridley Scott, working from a screenplay by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener (based on the book by Eric Jager), directs with his exquisite eye and attention for detail. Crafting an historical drama and electing a three-chapter structure, which shows our three main character’s perspective on the key events, allows us to better understand the fragility of truth, or at least each of our understanding of what the truth is. This is a story of rape and the pursuit of truth and what we discover is how a pursuit of truth can end up destroying it and how the honest and honorable can be left abused and destroyed by that grueling endeavor. The Last Dual, set in 14th Century France feels, despite the settings and rituals of those days, quite immediate. Resonant at least to the sexual assault reckoning we’ve seen in recent years with the #metoo movement. And yet, those modern narrative sensibilities never feel alien to the story told nor its setting.

Director Ridley Scott is expert at shooting battle sequences set centuries ago. Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood, and notably Gladiator, have displayed his command of the spectacle and brutal while serving as integral to the story he’s telling. He retains that visceral and brutal battle understanding and execution, though he chooses a more confined scale appropriate for the story. Where The Last Dual succeeds most is in the construction of this narrative and from the strong performances that give the story weight and involvement. Telling the same core set of sequences from three different perspectives accentuates the drama and allows the actors to show range. Scott captures the same moments with impressive subtlety. In the same moments, often using the same angles, we see the differences in mere glances, where eyes dart, how long gazes linger, tonal differences in voices, and how the actors move within scenes. While this approach may skirt by audiences not paying attention, the power of this story is in the subtlety of behaviors in event leading up to the rape. We see, through this ode to Rashomon, ingredients to explore how we view ourselves, hide ourselves, lie to ourselves, and how the truth can find itself disabused of its purity. It’s a fascinating study told with proficiency in the filmmaking crafts, from Scott’s direction, Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography, Claire Simpson’s editing, Arthur Max’s production design, costumes by Janty Yates, set decorations by Judy Farr, and a legion of other talents.

Performance-wise, The Last Duel is impressive. Jodie Comer is stunning in her role as Marguerite de Carrouges, and able to convey emotion, intelligence, strength, and vulnerability with glances and poise, often all at once. It’s a terrifically understated performance. Ben Affleck, accent aside, is good as Pierre d’Alençon, and he’s clearly having fun. A strong role for Affleck who seems to excel in the dramatic realm, even while he delivers the lighter moments in the story. Matt Damon is brilliant as Jean de Carrouges. Damon excels at the physical demands of the role but is most impressive in showing as a man unable to grow beyond his limitations, lost in a world and in roles that seem too large for him to comfortably fill, despite his battle prowess. Adam Driver, who continues to prove himself as one of the most interesting and best actors of our generation, is skilled as Jacques Le Gris. Throughout the film, and the three perspectives, there’s likable quality to his character despite the suspicions we have about him. That ambivalence of his trustworthiness is born of his attuned performance.

The Last Duel might very well be among the last films of its kind to be see the budget and theatrical release it received. The commercial failure of the film was staggering. However, like the financial disappointment of Spielberg’s West Side Story, the fault is the not the film but things vastly outside the control of the studio and filmmakers. The world shifted with the COVID-19 pandemic, and while films have found moderate to strong success at the box office even as the Omicron variant runs rampant, the type of films experiencing those successes are more limited in their styles. The rise of streaming and the stunning level of production and creative quality audiences find through streaming productions has been the perfect cocktail of circumstances to keep the audiences that films like The Last Dual tend to appeal to away from the risk and reality of the theatrical experience. This ambitious production, lavishly produced, would seem to fit better, in retrospect, as a premium streaming offering, delivering the production excellence and involving story to a home at HBO, like that premium streamers stunning Chernobyl. But that isn’t what Scott and the others set out to make. They set out to make a cinematic experience for adult audiences who have been pretty much forgotten by studios in recent years – at least for bigger budget stories like this one. Could this film have been made with a smaller budget and an eye for the indie market. I don’t think so, and if the universe were just, it wouldn’t have to. I don’t really lament the abundance of films that skew to broader audiences – the comic book and effects laden feasts we see everywhere now. What I lament is the imbalance we’re seeing, where audiences find and show up to films that fall into the ever-narrowing category of event and superhero spectacle. As a movie fan, I always want something for everyone, and we’ve moved away from that. It doesn’t mean Superhero movies are to blame. That would be unfair. There’s a rich mix of factors converging to create the theatrical release reality we are in today, exacerbated by the pandemic and its heavy risks for older audiences.

At the end of the day, The Last Duel is a particularly good film that is, without a doubt, worth seeing. In fact, I strongly recommend it. But it’s runtime is long, it’s setting bleak, its story sad, it’s setting and collection of place and character names uncommon for most audiences, and that’s a tougher sell than ever for theatrical audiences. That’s a real shame.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

This 20th Century production comes to us from Disney in a strong 4K release with expertly used HDR grading. The story and setting give rise to the use of natural light and low-lit interiors, common for the 14th Century. The HDR grading supports a strong black level and shadow detail despite being especially dim at times. Detail level is strong, particularly in more well-lit sequences, like the battles and time spent in a town market. Flesh tones are quite pale, unsurprisingly for the time, and the colder settings, cloudy skies, muddy landscapes, and brown and gray structures tend to downplay the visual excellence, but what we see on this disc is a fine representation of this production. Per IMDb, the film was shot with Arri cameras and finished with a native 4K Digital Intermediate (with Dolby Atmos, though that’s not available on the disc, only HDR10). The Last Duel is aided nicely from the resolution and HDR layer afforded a UHD release and is absolutely the way to watch this.

Audio: 5/5

There are sequences in The Last Duel where the Dolby Atmos® track is impressive. The opening sequence, the brief battle sequences we see, the crash and stamp of horses, the clang and clamor of swords on armor, all stand out. However, this is largely a film where dialogue and quieter moments dominate, and the understated nature of the audio itself becomes a statement. Composer Harry Gregson-Williams, with whom Ridley Scott has worked before (Kingdom of Heaven, The Martian) captures the tone of the film perfectly with his score (which I have playing in the background as I write this review). A quieter score that supports the mood and moments very well.

In short, the audio delivers in every way this film demands.

Special Features: 2.5/5

While the 4K disc contains no extras, the Blu-ray (and digital) versions offer a terrific special feature offering a look at the production and creative decision making of Ridley Scott. It is clear in this behind-the-scenes footage that Scott is unabated in his creative command of filmmaking. It’s a reminder for why he is one of the best there is. The Making Of is well shot and constructed by Cuba Tornado Scott, the director’s granddaughter.

The Making of The Last Duel

Theatrical Trailer

Overall: 4.5/5

The Last Duel represents a filmmaker in command of his craft, actors offering commanding performances, and uncompromising and strong production values. Filmed during the difficult and uncertain early months of the global pandemic, it went through exceedingly difficult circumstances just to finish filming only to find the conditions of theatrical exhibition changed and uncertain, too, and audiences stayed away. The film’s box office failure, though, is no indicator of its quality. The theatrical landscape may have changed, irrevocably, but I hold out hope that films like The Last Duel will find their way back to the movie theaters, along with middle-aged and older audiences, bringing a little balance back to the variety of films on offer. The Last Duel deserves an audience and I hope there’s redemption on home video.

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Published by

Neil Middlemiss

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Reggie W

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I also missed this in theaters but the blu is here in the house and I hope to watch it soon.
 

DaveF

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Thanks for the review. The trailer looked terrible to me - couple of mideval dudebros fighting over some girl — and I forgot about it. Hearing it’s actually a rich story gets me interested in watching it.
 

Ronald Epstein

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Just watched this digital the other day.

It was better than I had anticipated it would be.

My only personal problem with the film...

The film tells three versions of a rape and essentially, they are all the same. So, you are basically watching the same story over and over with slightly different perspectives. There is no doubt that the woman was raped and none of the three versions contradict that point.

Maybe I just missed the point of this film. It was still entertaining.