Combustible Celluloid
With: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Alex Lawther, Marton Csokas, William Houston, Oliver Cotton, Nathaniel Parker, Tallulah Haddon, Bryony Hannah, Ian Pirie
Written by: Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, based on books by Eric Jager
Directed by: Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language
Running Time: 152
Date: 10/15/2021

The Last Duel (2021)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Knight Shift

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This bloody, medieval swordfight movie's three-chapter structure is both an asset and a hindrance. At times, it seems to deepen, but it also feels repetitive and moves in graceless, blocky chunks.

Directed by Ridley Scott, The Last Duel resembles some of his other ancient-times battle movies in that it's serious and clunky, with action that's more forceful and clumsy than exciting. The first chapter, laying the groundwork for the story, is nearly unendurable, providing leaden details and jumping ahead years at a time, without building the characters. The second chapter brings fresh hope, not only because it begins to smooth out the story, layering in some emotions and nuance, but also because of Ben Affleck's delightful performance as the Count.

A rascal playboy, his character is the only one having fun, sidling about his palace filled with drinks and women, and savoring his loquacious, soft-leather dialogue. (It's also fun to watch him picking on his buddy Damon in their few scenes together.)

The third chapter is troublesome, since it tends to repeat whole scenes with only the slightest variations, as if alternate takes were accidentally added in. Only one sequence, in which de Carrouges and Le Gris shake hands at the party — seen three different ways — holds any deeper meaning. If only the movie had been tighter than its 152 minutes allow (like the 88-minute Rashomon), it might have made its point more concisely.

But the final third also develops the movie's true themes, on toxic masculinity and the power of women. With a screenplay by Affleck, Matt Damon, and filmmaker Nicole Holofcener (Friends with Money, Enough Said), it's easy to guess that Holofcener added these touches, and they hit hard. But we leave The Last Duel with the discouraging feeling that all the male characters are horrible and unredeemable, and that women have a long, long way to go; they still do.

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