The Last Duel has had an interesting critical climb. Its story flaws are present right upfront. Par for the course for director Ridley Scott whose movies often accompany questionable character logic. Here that uncertainty is utilized for strength in a joint screenplay by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener each writing their Rashomon-style parts. Damon writes from his character’s point of view. Affleck originally his opposite decided to take the tabloid heat off (it’s their first writing collaboration since Good Will Hunting) and play a more supporting role as a Count. And Holofcener writes the final female point of view, presented by a fantastic Jodie Comer as the film’s ultimate truth.
All the strengths of a Ridley Scott narrative are on display here, the handsome period detail, the blue tinge, the diabolically fearless direction, only this time it is inhabited by lived-in characters who do their own writing. The 100 million dollar movie looks the part although in many aspects it is framed often in close quarters by newly minted Academy Award nominee Dariusz Wolski (News of the World). He is also a regular Scott collaborator. They go so far as to frame a sexual assault scene twice, the second time slightly closer. The smart decision by filmmakers is to have only subtle differences in those two key scenes. The movie doesn’t try and cloud the truth, only frame it against powerful systemic bias showing how little consequences matter when nothing is concrete. It’s a timely message and the detractors of this film aren’t wrong when they point out the hypocrisy of a film like this being made by Weinstein’s buddies as a sort of #MeToo makeup project. Yet writing this film’s uncommonly nuanced intelligence, and performances do a disservice to where we are now. I hope this film gets an Oscar nod to continue the conversation, inconsistencies and rough edges in the writing be damned. It’s the kind of heavy film that landed with soft response at Venice with an aggregate score in the mid-sixties only to climb as it went on. Sadly it didn’t help its Box-Office despite audiences claiming this sort of thing.
Blame the Disney corporate behemoth who ate 20th Century Fox and know how to market this film about as well as Jean De-Carrouges (Matt Damon in the film) knows politics. For what it’s worth The Last Duel which ends the film is worth the wait.