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The Last Duel examines toxic masculinity and misogyny 

Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down) directs this historical drama written by Nicole Holofcener and two of its stars, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting). The year is 1386, and Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) claims Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver)—her husband's purported friend—raped her. Marguerite demands justice, and King Charles VI (Alex Lawther) grants her husband, knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon), the right to challenge Le Gris to trial by combat, in what was the last legally sanctioned duel in France's history. The film features Affleck as Count Pierre d'Alençon. (152 min.)

click to enlarge TRIAL BY COMBAT Knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) defends his wife's honor after she's raped, in The Last Duel, a historical drama that chronicles the last legally sanctioned duel in France's history, screening in local theaters. - PHOTO COURTESY OF 20TH CENTURY STUDIOS AND SCOTT FREE PRODUCTIONS
  • Photo Courtesy Of 20th Century Studios And Scott Free Productions
  • TRIAL BY COMBAT Knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) defends his wife's honor after she's raped, in The Last Duel, a historical drama that chronicles the last legally sanctioned duel in France's history, screening in local theaters.
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Glen If—in light of the #MeToo movement—you're not furious enough, The Last Duel will set your blood to boil. As misogynistic as things are now, apparently pre-Renaissance-period France was the equivalent of the tail-end of a long and drunken frat party thrown by man-babies who believed God's forgiveness was only a confession away. Women were possessions, and if you raped another man's wife, the crime was against the husband, not his wife. Throw in a little "you can't get pregnant from rape because a baby can only be conceived if the woman orgasms, and if the woman orgasms it isn't rape," and you've got a big old plate of triggering pie. Uncomfortable sex scenes abound, especially considering the tale is told three times from various perspectives à la Rashomon (1950); hence, we get to see the "event" over and over. Jean de Carrouges is the equivalent of a meat-headed sports hero—full of himself and easily offended. In short, he's self-entitled, not bright enough to see the political machinations going on around him, with a quick-to-anger ego that's his own worst enemy. Jacque Le Gris is sycophantically ambitious, overly cocksure, and incapable of realizing a woman may not be attracted to him. He's the pretty-boy dandy who thinks he's God's gift to the ladies. The two are alike enough to be friends but competitive enough to become enemies. When they finally square off at story's end in mortal combat—the winner apparently being the one God allowed to triumph because he was in the right—it's hard to root for either. By then we know they're not the hero of this story. Marguerite is.

Anna I have to give big trigger warnings for this film for its depiction of rape; the third act—which is from Marguerite's perspective—was so disturbing I quite literally covered my eyes and ears in the theater. It is absolutely a depiction that is visceral and difficult to watch. The men in this tale are wholly vile; that being said, it is a sliding scale. Just the accusation of rape could put Marguerite's head quite literally on the chopping block, yet she must trust in her brutish husband to fight for her justice. Damon and Affleck are a good writing team, and while I've heard some complaints that this film is "slow," I disagree. Repetitive, maybe. We do see many scenes played out over again from the various perspectives, but it's smart filmmaking and the subtle shifts we see in gaze and perception offer a really interesting shift in focus. Does Le Gris think he raped Marguerite? In short, no. He is so pompous that he can't imagine any woman, and especially a forbidden one, denying him in any way. He's spoiled by Pierre d'Alençon who treats him as his special boy, seemingly because the two share the same voracious appetite for women and booze. Those men are always up for an orgy, let's just say that. While the men take the majority of screen time here, this really is Marguerite's story. She's the one who deserves a win, and the only character I really cared to root for.

Glen It's interesting to note that Scott's debut, The Duellists (1977)—based on Joseph Conrad's short story "The Duel"—was another historical drama about two Frenchmen with a beef who duel it out several times over many years. It won Best First Work at the Cannes Film Festival that year. As for "slow," compared to Scott's Best Picture Oscar-winner Gladiator (2000), The Last Duel might strike action junkies as too staid. After a brief opening tease that preludes the concluding duel, viewers have to contend with only a handful of well-staged medieval battles. When the violence comes, however, it's visceral. This isn't, however, a typical action film. It's most interested in injustice toward women and how men rationalize inequality. Its settings and locations are terrific, its atmosphere is gray and oppressive, and its cinematography stunning. Ridley Scott still has the magic touch.

Anna Even with less battling and more brooding, I stayed engaged. Maybe the trickery of switching perspectives kept me grounded in it. I found it fascinating to see how the three characters viewed the same scene. The replay of the intrusion on Marguerite's estate and the subsequent assault were especially interesting when viewed from the pompous perspective of Le Gris and the trapped victim perspective of Marguerite. Once at trial, Le Gris pulls his best Brock Turner impression, forlornly claiming that his action was first not wrong and second should not condemn the rest of his life. I'm a big Adam Driver fan, even when he's the bad guy, and as a testament to his skill, he made me just loathe him here. There are some big names and some big money behind this one, and it shows. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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