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Film review: “The Last Duel” is much more than men with swords

While it is usually actors that experience multiple works getting attention in a single year, director Ridley Scott is having a big one with two major releases: “House of Gucci” and “The Last Duel.”

“The Last Duel,” the first of the two, is a period piece based on real-life fourteenth-century events documented in the book of the same name by Eric Jager.

Matt Damon plays Sir Jean de Carrouges, Adam Driver plays Jacques Le Gris, Jodie Comer plays Marguerite de Carrouges and Ben Affleck plays Count Pierre d’Alençon. Everyone in the principal cast is worthy of high praise, with Comer standing out as Sir Jean’s wife. Easy nominations all around come award season.

“The Last Duel” is adapted for the screen by Nicole Holofcener (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), Damon and Affleck, which is the first time the latter two penned something together since their debut “Good Will Hunting.”

The story centers around different accounts of, and the events leading up to, a rape. The film faces a lot of themes head-on, such as masculinity, honor and faith, but the one it hits on the head is which narratives are lost in the wake of unspeakable injustices.

The story of two men fighting to the death over an allegation of sexual assault might seem to be shallow, but behind the facade of an adrenaline-packed revenge story lie lessons that may reach some audiences for the first time.

In true Ridley Scott fashion, “The Last Duel” is nothing but a sensory masterclass. The cinematography is pretty (mostly gray), but the true victor of all the technical elements is the sound design. There are so many different sounds to experience and nothing feels too overpowering. The battle scenes in particular don’t sound like an onslaught of the eardrums but instead a culmination of identifiable noises.

Each character’s relationship to one another is fully formed, and there is a near-perfect amount of time dedicated to each. Many period pieces make the mistake of spending too much time indulging in its setting, but “The Last Duel” prioritizes the stories and subtleties in the different narratives than its style.

There are many layers to this movie outside of the theater. The film has been noted to follow issues raised in the times of the #MeToo movement. Damon and Affleck owe the start of their career to now-disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Is this an effort to put themselves on the right side of that narrative? Maybe.

The film is making headlines mainly for its horrible return (as of now, clocked in at less than $10 million on a $100 mil budget), but do not let the box office determine its worth. “The Last Duel” is a thoughtful epic, and for once, a major Hollywood period piece worth the runtime.

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