Performative feminism has reached its peak in The Last Duel, as amazing sets, costumes, and performances can't save what is fundamentally wrong with this story: the storytellers. In this case, this is a metacommentary on the film itself, as director Ridley Scott and Executive Producers, Co-writers, and lead actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck need to simply learn to pass the mic.
While they brought in co-writer and co-producer Nicole Holofcener, this film is far too male-driven in its narrative and choices to ever adequately deal with something as complicated and traumatic as rape, which is depicted not just once but twice in excruciating agony. For those who will be triggered by sexual assault, the largest of warnings as The Last Duel handles the central event of the film, Jacques (Adam Driver) raping Marguerite (Jodie Comer), very poorly.
But this is what happens when you let bros control the narrative. Told in three parts, first from the point of view of Jean (Damon), then from Jacques', then finally from Marguerite's, the film is, first, overly long. The two men get the first ninety minutes of the movie telling their version of events; then, we finally get Marguerite's view.
And even though the film, with all the subtlety of a French knight's broadsword to the head, tells us Act III is "The Truth According to Marguerite" and then fades out the final three words so that we, the audience, really understand that this is the true telling of the event, it is literally too little, too late. We're already an hour and a half into this, and you've framed it as a pissing match between two men?
No. Just no.
The tragedy is this might have been an interesting film if not set up as a he said – he said – she said story. Ridley Scott is doing his Ridley Scott thing, and the production design and performances, especially by Comer, are excellent. Ben Affleck is the hammiest he has been in literally two decades, seemingly channeling his Shakespeare in Love role as a libertine French noble. Whether you like that or not will depend entirely on how much you like Ham Affleck. (Confession: I have a soft spot for Hammy Affleck).
And in the third act of The Last Duel, it finally finds a groove in truly presenting just how dangerous and exploitative the world is for women. Unfortunately, it then re-shows the rape that was already poorly handled in Act II and is now somehow worse.
While you can appreciate that they were trying to make it more visceral, so you understood how traumatic this was for Marguerite, it still comes off as exploitative and gross. Even attempts after this point to show how terrible 14th century France was for women (we get it) come across more as lampshading — displaying offensive behavior and trying to shoo away criticism of it by winking that they know what they're saying is wrong. After all, a villain said it while he twirled his mustache, so it's ok to say those sexist things, right? Sigh.
And that's ultimately where The Last Duel leaves you. After two and a half hours of running time, it's just exhausting. This should have been a tight film that focused on Marguerite, her trauma, her point of view. Instead, we have bloated, offensive nonsense whose attempts at truth-telling are heavy-handed and exploitative. It's a film focused on the male point of view that can't ever escape it, and men should just stop trying to tell these stories. By all means, star in and Executive Produce this film, Affleck and Damon. But make the actual creative team of writers and directors all women and break out of this false narrative that you have to center the male point of view for 3/4 of the film's excessively long running time.
What a waste. Don't waste two and half hours of your life on this garbage. But do take some time and read up what my colleague Kaitlyn Booth had to say about The Last Duel, because WGAF what men think about this movie, right?