The Last Duel: Film Review

Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

I’m not a massive fan of medieval films so I was unsure if The Last Duel would float my boat – but I needn’t have worried because the story and performances are so good and Ridley Scott is on top form.

The film, based on true events, is set in 1368 and depicts the last legally sanctioned duel in France, a battle between knight Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) after de Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accused Le Gris of rape.

The film is divided into three chapters with the heading “the truth according to…” and begins with de Carrouges, before moving onto Le Gris and finishing up with Marguerite, with them each giving their perspective on the same story. This brilliant narrative device made the movie all the more fascinating and I got more invested as it went along. It was interesting seeing the different viewpoints and how each person perceived a particular event, decision or interaction. I feared this technique would cause a lot of repetition and we’d see the same scenes three times but that doesn’t happen much and when it does, the dialogue, action or intention within the scene were always different enough to make them compelling.

I wasn’t sold on the film in the first chapter. It took me a while to get into it because of the medieval setting and de Carrouges being a cold, callous and proud man who is angry at losing the land he was promised and the captaincy of his castle in Belleme to his friend Le Gris. The story gets more promising in the second chapter. Le Gris is a womanising rogue and close pals with Count Pierre (Ben Affleck), who has a wicked sense of humour, so the chapter was more light-hearted and comedic and also more intriguing as it added a new layer of perspective onto what we’d seen previously. The final act is where it really excels and Scott knocks it out of the park – and this is where we see the rape from Marguerite’s perspective (it’s a hard watch) and culminates with the gripping titular duel.

It takes more than two hours to reach the duel but it’s worth the wait. It is brutal, gripping, thrilling and seriously violent, the action is well-executed and cleanly shot and I genuinely cared about the outcome – my heart was pounding watching de Carrouges and Le Gris battle to the death. Major edge-of-your-seat stuff.

Although the duel will be the main draw for many, I think the handling of Marguerite’s rape allegation is also very important. The film may be set in the 1380s but the reaction to such a claim and the way accusers are treated is basically still the same today – she’s not believed, she’s asked if she could have provoked her attacker somehow and why she didn’t run away, and made to feel shame in court thanks to a barrage of deeply personal questions and accusations.

All the cast deliver excellent performances but Comer is the star of the show and the most captivating presence. Marguerite is the heart of the piece and the key to the story and even though she has less screentime than the others, she is the only one I emotionally connected to. Her performance in the rape scene is subtle but nothing short of heartbreaking.

What’s remarkable is that each actor had to play their character slightly differently in each chapter as the perspective of them changes. For example, Damon (complete with mullet and goatee) seemed angrier and more bitter in the other chapters than his own, Driver came across as more of a joker and a ladies man in his chapter and Comer has to play Marguerite as more seductive and flirtatious in Le Gris’ section. Nobody attempts a French accent which is an odd choice given the setting but this was probably for the best.

The Last Duel starts like your average historical drama and I didn’t have high hopes but it levelled up with each chapter and I came away thinking it was bloody fantastic.

In cinemas from Friday 15th October

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Annette: Film Review

Annette

Courtesy of MUBI

Brace yourselves folks, you haven’t seen anything like Annette, for better or worse.

Leos Carax‘s English-language debut, a musical with Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks, stars Adam Driver as stand-up comedian Henry McHenry, who embarks on a whirlwind romance with renowned opera singer Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard). They get married and have a daughter named Annette, portrayed by a wooden marionette puppet, who has her mother’s gift. Henry becomes jealous of their talent and success as his career takes a downturn, with devastating consequences.

Annette is not your conventional movie musical, oh no. It is experimental, wild, weird and absolutely mad. Carax makes some bold and brave filmmaking choices that won’t be for everyone. It certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. I admired and respected it more than actually enjoying it. The film is way too long and I just struggled to get into it given how bonkers it was but I did ultimately come to like the story following Henry’s career downfall. I never really got past the whole “it’s a puppet” element but I thought the craftmanship of Annette was really impressive and she moved in a creepy life-like way.

The meta introductory song, So May We Start, was very good and super catchy so I had high hopes for the tunes and these were disappointing. They failed to make an impact because the majority of them sounded the same and were so meh and forgettable and I found Driver’s singing voice rather grating after a while. I think I would have liked the film more if it wasn’t a musical, which is something I never thought a musicals lover like me would ever say.

This film is Driver’s show and he gives a stunning performance as Henry. He really throws himself into the batshit craziness of it all and has a commanding, captivating presence. Henry ruins his success and comes to resent his family and descends into madness, with his onstage meltdown being particularly uncomfortable to watch.

Cotillard’s character isn’t well fleshed out, she is almost like Henry’s glossy vision of Ann rather than the actual person but the French actress was perfectly cast in the role and convinced as an opera singer. Out of all the cast members, I really hope Simon Helberg – best known for playing Howard Wolowitz in The Big Bang Theory – receives some awards attention for his supporting role in this film. He plays a very different character and did a lot with the handful of scenes he was in. There is one scene in which he talks to the camera while conducting an orchestra and the level of emotion he commanded while convincingly conducting at the same time was just astounding. That is my favourite scene in the film and it is solid proof that Helberg is capable of so much more than he has been able to showcase thus far in his career.

Carax make some big swings with Annette and the result is a over-long oddball piece that is all over the place. Many people dig it, many people (myself included) don’t.

In cinemas from Friday 3rd September

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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