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Medieval Mayhem: The Last Duel

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It's a powerful epic set 600 years ago but as timely as Harvey Weinstein.

The Last Duel

“The penalty for bearing false witness is that you are to be burned alive.” Le Gris' Priest (John Kavanagh)

Indeed, epic and enjoyable, The Last Duel bears the weight of rape that goes on even today with a woman who challenges a man for violating her against her will. However, this historically accurate medieval occurrence happened 600 years ago under the Normandy reign of the “mad” king, Charles VI. In addition, its legal battles are almost as interesting as how a virtuous woman can withstand the pressures of men who rule her and all other women with witless tyranny.

Conditions for Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) are worse for her in the 14th century because the same “he said” “she said” is met with the same disbelief as in many cases today. Her uptight husband, Sir Jean (Matt Damon), who rarely smiles, will eventually agree to a duel with his squire, Jacque Le Gris (Adam driver), the accused. It may be the last duel, but it is not the last time a woman comes near death for her allegations.

Ridley Scott, who knows something about action (Blade Runner, Gladiator), directs this almost melodrama to a fine degree as he explores, Rashomon-style, three points of view about the rape yet has as memorable a stock dueling scene with horses and lances as any I’ve seen. The complex drama allows us to question the truth of contradictory elements and to long for a resolution that is unambiguous but eventually hard to attain.

The question about justice for women is present as it is today, for in the end the men determine, and women are left helplessly pleading to be treated fairly. That the truth of her allegations rests on the outcome of the duel is absurd but allowed because the King wills it, as if chance could determine the truth more than truth itself.

Never does Scott let the action overshadow the search for truth because he allows sharp questioning take place, albeit resting on false assumptions such as if a woman doesn’t feel pleasure at the end of the act with her husband, there will be no child, or that a child does not ensue from rape, or that describing a man as handsome predisposes a woman to adultery. Ages ago but a contemporary ignorance our ultra-conservative covens love.

Not half as important but more interesting is the turf battle, where land is capriciously given away or gobbled up for debt less than its worth. Women as chattel is not new—doweries exist today even if they are not called that: “Rape is not a crime against women” says one man. “It is a crime of property.”

The Last Duel gives the audience almost all the possible pleasures from a motion picture that include gorgeous property and people. Enjoy as it was meant to be seen—in a theater.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com

The Last Duel

Director: Ridley Scott (Blade Runner)

Screenplay: Nicole Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) Matt  Damon, Ben Affleck

Cast: Matt Damon (Bourne Legacy), Adam Driver (Marriage Story)

Run Time: 2h 32 m

Rating: R

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.