Matt Daemon is…Matt Daemon.
If you had told me ten years ago that Matt Daemon and Ben Affleck would one day be starring in a medieval film and then told me it wasn’t a dog shit comedy directed by Kevin Smith, I’d probably call you a liar. I had actually wanted today’s review to be Clerks III, a film I’m looking forward to with all the enthusiasm of a sitcom husband having a prostate exam given by his mother-in-law. Oh joy, another “comedy” where Kevin Smith goes down the road of bad self-deprecating comedy about how he’s a hack director when really he’s just a hack director. Watch 90 minutes of a man point out how his filmmaking has gone downhill while doing nothing to rectify it.
But unknown to me, Clerks III is a Fathom event which means my Regal pass is no good here. Sorry Kevin, your movie is not worth more than the 50 cent handling fee the ticket might have cost me, let alone the $14 you want. It only has one showing per day and considering the theater near me had fifteen seats reserved out of the whole theater tells me this thing is selling like enrollment to the Kevin Spacey Youth Filmmaker Academy.
But enough about that, let’s talk about The Last Duel. The Last Duel is a Ridley Scott film that came out in 2021 and odds are you haven’t seen it, or at least you didn’t see it until it hit HBO Max this past January or Hulu this week. Actually you probably haven’t seen it anyway. If I hadn’t been checking third party websites I would have never known that The Last Duel was even on Hulu, as Hulu itself didn’t bother making any hubbub or go through the effort to list the movie on their new film category, and at the time I watched it the movie wasn’t even listed on the popular films category. Nobody is tuning in even without the need to buy a ticket. You know what was in the popular list? Ernest Goes To Prison.
Sorry Roland. The Last Duel released with a budget of $100 million and drew in $30 million in the box office. Thankfully 2021 was a terrible year for movies all around so The Last Duel was actually the seventh of eight box office bombs in terms of gross losses. Over $900 million in box office losses thanks to the biggest flops of the year, and frankly Hollywood deserves every penny lost. They’d probably pull some tax fraud to embezzle the profits anyway and have also likely done so to handle the losses. But while it is disappointing to see The Suicide Squad on that list given it was a great movie, I’m happy to see that West Side Story took a fat ogre shit.
Let’s talk about The Last Duel. Directed by the fantastic Ridley Scott, The Last Duel stars Matt Daemon as Sir Jean de Carrouges, a knight who challenges his friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) to a duel to the death after Sir Jean’s wife accuses Jacques of rape. No this is not the origin story of “J’accuse” as a phrase. The film threw me through a loop when I watched it because it is a long movie, but skips through time frames and at about the 35 minute mark feels like it’s already coming up to the final battle. And yet there’s still two hours left in the movie. And then we go back in time and start the film all over again.
The movie is presented in three acts, each from the perspective of Sir Jean, Jacques, and Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer) telling their side of the same story. The perspectives are not radically different but they do vary enough to be noticeable and there are scenes throughout each version where characters are alone that give more context and offer more insight into their motivations and feelings. But the intrigue with having this be a three act structure where the film effectively plays itself over three times is in the character details and how the actors portray themselves each time.
Because the actors had the tough role of playing essentially three similar but very different people. Sir Jean views himself as a loving husband and noble knight while Jacques is a snobbish backstabber and the scenes from his perspective are portrayed exactly as that, and when we view those same scenes through the eyes of Jacques or Marguerite he takes on a rather different tone and body image, knowing of course that these are three similar but ultimately unreliable narrators with wildly different and biased opinions on themselves and those around them. Your opinions on the characters swing heavily over the course of the film as you get new perspectives.
The Last Duel has strong characters, and yes I’m including Ben Affleck as Count Pierre. Ben Affleck was in a sense perfectly cast for this role because he absolutely does not give a shit at any point in the film nor does he bother acting like a 14th century Frenchman. And the reason that it works is because his character is a rich asshole with connections who is basically used to failing upwards, having competent people clean up his messes, and being rewarded further for it. While Daemon, Driver, and Comer among the rest of the cast clearly put a huge amount of effort into getting into character for this trip back to the late 1300s, Affleck just does not bother and I think this could have gone horribly wrong for the tone of the film if he did it badly. This ain’t a Kevin Smith film, Ben.
The sets and moment to moment scenes in The Last Duel are beautiful and expertly crafted. Even if you find the film boring, I don’t think anyone can deny that Ridley Scott and the people making this film cared a whole hell of a lot about making it as true to life as possible. Ridley Scott even more since the guy had a mental breakdown after the movie bombed and went on a crazy man rant in interviews. And he’s not wrong that the public is generally dumb as hell and will go to the exact same popcorn inhaling dumb stupid action film for the thousandth time than see a slow churning drama that has a small handful of fight scenes and plays longer than most of the Lord of the Rings movies. But 2021 as a whole was a really shitty year to release this film.
And yes, there is the duel between Matt Daemon and Adam Driver and it is worth the build-up over the prior two hours and fifteen minutes. The Last Duel is engrossing, tense, with interesting and well-written characters. If you haven’t watched it yet, you really should given it’s now on HBO Max and Hulu.
Check it out.