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“The Last Duel” review: a medieval epic in the age of #MeToo

It’s no surprise that Ridley Scott, who has done his share of swaggering manly epics, has made what could be the first medieval feminist revenge saga to hit the big screen. In addition to his love for men with mighty swords, Scott has an affinity for tough women, sharp and tough and thoughtful women, not tough cartoons. They’re invariably charming, of course, but everything about Ridley Scott’s dreamy world has an elated shimmer.

Even mud and blood shine in “The Last Duel,” an old-fashioned show with a #MeToo twist. Based on the fascinating true story of a lady, knight and squire in 14th century France, the story was big news at the time and was adapted to contemporary sensibilities by Scott and an unusual troika of writers: Nicole Holofcener and two of the stars of the film, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Together, they tear off the moldy fig leaf from a Hollywood staple, Arthurian romance – with its chivalrous code, chivalrous virtues and courteous manners – to reveal a mercenary and transactional world of men, women and men. to be able to. The result is precisely anti-romantic.

Damon, ugly with sharp facial scars and a comically abject mule, plays Jean de Carrouges, an unlucky nobleman who makes ends meet by fighting in the name of the king. The machinations start early and quickly accelerate after his marriage to a younger woman, Marguerite (Jodie Comer), who lights up his life but doesn’t do much for her bitter temper or unhappy grooming. conceited and petty, lips screwed into a fold, Jean settles down with Marguerite but seethes around his friend turned antagonist, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver, a juicy Basil Rathbone), a social climber aligned with Count Peter, a power licentious player (Affleck, in debauched glory).

It’s a juicy lineup of familiar characters that are greedy and smaller than those that usually populate historical epics. But there is no obligatory nobility or courtly love, no dragons, female witches or glorious British accents. Instead, there are debts, grudges, fights, affairs, an occasional naked nymph, and men who endlessly vie for position. Jean marries Marguerite to increase his prestige and his wealth; Jacques enriched himself by attracting the favors of Pierre. For her part, Marguerite is passed down from father to husband, who later, in a surprising moment, orders her to kiss Jacques in public as proof of Jean’s new-found goodwill towards his enemy. It is a catastrophic gesture.

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