Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s ‘The Last Duel’ is a tough yet important watch that’ll likely get Oscar nominations

The Last Duel Matt Damon and Adam Driver
Matt Damon and Adam Driver square off in ‘The Last Duel.’ Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios
  • “The Last Duel” is a difficult watch, at times, due to its storyline.
  • The film, starring Matt Damon and Adam Driver, may be triggering for abuse survivors.
  • Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for “The Last Duel.”

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon‘s first movie in years is difficult to watch at times. But the period piece also bears a timely feminist message that speaks to the arrogance and seemingly limitless power of men.

Based on a 2004 book, director Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” will likely garner a few Oscar nods for its raw performances, its storytelling, and an epic fight sequence that rivals the director’s “Gladiator” showdown.

Told in three chapters from three points of view during the 14th century, the film is based on a true story of betrayal between former friends Jean Carrouges (Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) as the latter is accused of raping Carrouges’ wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer).

Marguerite speaks up about her assault when it’s dangerous for a woman to be anything but silent and subservient to her male guardian out of fear of being ostracized by her community.

With Marguerite’s honor in question, Carrouges and Le Gris fight a duel to the death, the last recorded trial by combat of its kind.

The Last Duel
Le Gris and Carrouges fight in an epic duel. Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon reunite with this film, but tap Nicole Holofcener to help tell the story accurately

“The Last Duel” isn’t just Affleck and Damon’s first time on screen together in 20 years, it’s also the first script they’ve written together since 1997’s “Good Will Hunting.” In this film, the two wisely collaborated with writer-director Nicole Holofcener with each of them writing one of the film’s three perspectives – a brilliant story choice.

Damon wrote for his character, Carrouges, Affleck wrote Le Gris’ point of view, and Holofcener was tapped to write for Comer to ensure they accurately captured the perspective of a female.

It’s worth noting that Affleck was originally supposed to play the role of Le Gris opposite Damon. Affleck later stepped down and took on a smaller role in the film as a count. If you know that going in, it’s difficult to watch the film and not wonder how it would’ve played out since the two have been real-life friends for over 40 years.

As each chapter unfolds, more of the story is slowly revealed as you view it from a different vantage point.

Though you think the film is going to let you decide whose truth to believe, by the time you get to part three, the film emphasizes the words “the truth” on Marguerite’s story so you know her version of events is the one that actually matters.

Marguerite The Last Duel
Jodie Comer plays Marguerite. Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios

It’s a story format that makes you want to go back and rewatch sections of the film over again to compare and contrast the subtle differences between view points, of which there are quite a few. According to the film’s production notes, these minor differences were purposeful so that during any point of the film, the viewer believes the current narrator. In an early scene, Jean goes on about how sick he feels before a trip, but he tells his wife and mother he must push through and go on with it. When the same scene is recounted from Marguerite’s truth, Jean isn’t shown to be that sick at all.

The two viewpoints of the film’s rape scene are a fascinating exercise in how the same moment can be interpreted (and misinterpreted) through different eyes.

From Driver’s character’s vantage point, the scenario is a bit more romanticized. To him, Marguerite appears to step out of her shoes before sauntering upstairs into her bedroom, appearing inviting to Jacques.

When the scene plays again from Marguerite’s perspective, it feels more nightmarish. The shoes aren’t gracefully removed as much as they slip off her feet as she tries to run up the stairs to escape Jacques’ unwanted advances. The sound of his stomps up the stairs are haunting.

Adam Driver The Last Duel
Adam Driver is both charming and terrifyingly haunting in ‘The Last Duel.’ 20th Century Studios

‘The Last Duel’ has a rape scene that can be triggering for sexual assault survivors

For those who have a difficult time viewing graphic images of sexual assault, “The Last Duel” may be a triggering watch as a rape is shown twice over from different view points.

The studio “sought advice from several advocacy organizations on the story’s portrayal of sexual abuse, survivors and recovery,” according to production notes. In addition, an intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien (“Sex Education”), was on hand to make sure any portrayal of sexual violence and violence against women “was handled with sensitivity,” and it is.

Despite the hard-to-watch scene, Driver does a terrific job in the role, but one that’s so convincing that he’s particularly terrifying by the film’s end. It’s a marked contract since initially the audience is charmed by him for the film’s first two acts as a beloved member of the community, despite his womanizing ways which foreshadow the darker scene ahead.

Comer’s Marguerite has to wait for over an hour to tell her side of the story (fitting, because in 14th century Europe a women would never be allowed to speak before a man). Though her lines are minimal until the last leg of the film, Comer’s brilliant at simply acting with her eyes, something the actress mastered in her expressiveness on the spy thriller series, “Killing Eve.”

Ben Affleck The Last Duel
Ben Affleck is a scene-stealer in every appearance of ‘The Last Duel.’ Jessica Forde/20th Century Studios

Ben Affleck steals every scene he’s in, but the movie isn’t without issues

Though Damon and Comer offer fine performances, it’s Affleck who steals every scene in which he appears as Count Pierre d’Alençon, a cousin of the king.

For as distracting as his character’s platinum blonde hair is (I’m still not sure about that style decision), his performance is such a scene-stealer that you almost forget about how ridiculous Affleck looks because he’s so convincing as, an often, drunk-with-power count.

“The Last Duel” slightly flounders, however, by making the audience painstakingly wait until the film’s final 20-or-so minutes to watch the duel itself, teased at the film’s start. Because the film opens at its end as Carrouges and Le Gris prepare for the titular duel before rewinding back to tell its tale, for much of the film’s start you’re trying to figure out how these once great friends wound up in their current predicament.

It’s incredible to watch the nail-bitingly tense scene and a bit graphic, giving off vibes from Scott’s former epic “Gladiator.” It just takes forever to get there, especially because the film is a lengthy two hours and 20 minutes.

The first 40 minutes are a bit of a slog as you start the story from Jean’s perspective. You’re not totally sure where the film is going until suddenly Marguerite reveals her assault to Jean. From there, “The Last Duel” never slows down.

The Last Duel Jodie Comer
Jodie Comer’s hair is styled into gorgeous looks throughout the film. Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios

The only other massive critique is that it’s a bit difficult to believe LeGris is actually in love with Marguerite. It’s an infatuation that comes on so quickly and so fiercely that it feels like there’s not enough time spent on the build up for it to arrive naturally. Le Gris claims to be in such a deep profound love with her that it almost feels a bit forced. This isn’t any fault of Driver, but rather a fault of not enough time being spent to provide enough context for Le Gris’ motivations with Marguerite.

“The Last Duel” is a movie that will stay with you long afterwards for its heavy material. Expect to hear this film’s name come Oscar time. In addition to expected Oscar nods for screenplay and nods for Affleck and Driver, the hair and makeup team will likely garner a nod for the many elaborate hairstyles Comer wears throughout the film.

In regards to the film’s ending, with Marguerite’s honor being fiercely defended, it’s easy to wonder how much of the #MeToo movement informed it. It feels as if the story was purposely written in a way to deliver a message of female empowerment.

It makes for a fine narrative with an important message to believe women, but is it one we needed from three men – Affleck, Damon, and Scott? Probably not and that’s why Holofcener’s contribution is critical.

“The Last Duel” is in theaters Friday.

Grade: B+