The Last Duel (2021)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer & Ben Affleck
By Tim Basaraba
With twenty-seven feature films to his credit, Ridley Scott has earned the title of “Sir.” I would love to go through his filmography and call out a few “must-sees,” but I don’t want to distract from what I’m about to convey: The Last Duel may be the best Sir Ridley Scott film ever. You should drop whatever you’re doing and watch it RIGHT NOW.
Now, before you start hate-tweeting me @timbasaraba, hear me out.
The story unfolds like most high budget period pieces: establish characters in an ancient and visually stunning, yet believable, world; sprinkle in some conflict; use intricate visual bravado to build towards an inevitable climax; then slow everything way down and let the audience ponder what it was all for. Scott did exactly this with The Last Duel, an epic historical drama set in France in the Middle Ages. It’s plays like three films in one. As the denouement effortlessly unfolds, we witness a masterclass in filmmaking and a story for the ages that’s forever encapsulated on digital media at the peak of this great director’s career.
Contributing greatly to this near-perfect film are its three main actors: Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. The plot structure allows all three to play “different” roles as the same character and stretch the limits of their artistic skills. Their talents are paramount to the story’s believability as it unfolds, and the motivations of each character are masterfully revealed.
And let us not forget the supporting cast! In limited screen time, Harriet Walter (as Nicole de Carrouges, the mother of Damon’s character, a French night named Jean de Carrouges) chills me to the bone with lines like “The truth does not matter, there is only the power of men.” Ben Affleck, as arrogant aristocrat Pierre d’Alençon, feels like he’s acting in a different film during some of the longer, dialogue-driven scenes. It’s almost as if he didn’t fully commit to the film as a period piece, delivering his lines in a modern vernacular. Normally this would take me out of the moment (and possibly soil my experience), but it wasn’t enough of a distraction to take away from my utter enjoyment of this exceptional film.
It should also be mentioned that The Last Duel would not be a near-perfect film without an excellent script. Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck combine forces to deliver a tale that is so well constructed that it properly shrinks and expands time in a way that only the best stories can. We are left wanting more, and, after it ended, I immediately wanted to see another film from Sir Ridley. Luckily, 2021 is one of three years throughout his career in which we’re granted two films by this master filmmaker. Can House of Gucci clear the high bar set by the Last Duel? Probably not, but for the sake of everyone who loves film, I say “let the 84-year-old director give it another go.”
If other Scott two-fer year films Gladiator (2000) and Hannibal (2000) get an A and a C, respectively, and if The Martian (2015) is a B, and Alien: Covenant (2015) is a B+, then The Last Duel (the first of two films released in 2021 by Sir Ridley Scott) is an A+. Stay tuned for my thoughts on House of Gucci!