Sunday, October 17, 2021

Nothing about MeToo’s medieval epic The Last Duel should work – but it’s exciting

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A movie set with American actors in the Middle Ages, complete with comical tufts of facial hair and transatlantic accents, should be absurd

Ridley Scott’s 14th century epic The last duel delivers all of the clanking armor, gruesome medieval battles, and grueling aristocratic power games you could ask for from a filmmaker known for his ability to extract hell from a historic Hollywood epic (à la gladiator). But Scott’s violent film turns out to be a rather surprising stab in a #MeToo parable.

The story unfolds like an accordion in three chapters, each of which is described at the beginning as “the truth about” one of the three main characters.

Their stories revolve around a rape allegation made by a woman named Marguerite (Jodie Comer, sincere and dignified, with icy determination in her eyes).

The first version comes from Matt Damons Jean de Carrouges, an imperturbable would-be knight whose comrade Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) has joined him in many brutal battles on behalf of their lord and their king.

Le Gris gives his version of the events in story two (Driver is predictably great as a total cadet), with the two stories rewinding, overlapping and contradicting each other.

As the two men disagree over the feudal land swap and the favor of their mighty lord (Ben Affleck, in a knowingly disgusting supporting role as a hedonistic and occasionally hilarious aristocrat), enmity replaces respect.

But the central theme is, in keeping with the classic change of perspective Rashomon (1950), The Rape of Marguerite, and the final chapter – her story – shows that in some ways both men are equally terrible.

In truth, there isn’t much to it The last duel that should work. The cast of bro-like, all-American actors, complete with weird tufts of facial hair and transatlantic “medieval” accents, should be absurd, and there’s a rush to get used to in the first 10 minutes of the film.

Scott is righteous in his attitude towards #MeToo at 83, but this is essentially a superficial reading of a situation most women already instinctively understand.

However, when the film gets going, it does so irresistibly, building up to an exciting crescendo in its final bone-breaking moments.

Written by writer and director Nicole Holofcener with Affleck and Damon, it also shows how storytelling can be so deceptive when it favors certain points of view and how men love to present themselves as heroes and saviors despite evidence to the contrary.

It’s fascinating to see Scott look askew at the historical epic’s gender politics in light of its earlier credits. Here he powerfully deconstructs the framework of these macho stories and still delivers an exciting epic with a large budget.

In cinemas

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