Linda Cook review: ‘The Last Duel’ is gripping ‘Rashomon’-style drama

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There’s a lot to recommend about “The Last Duel.”

First, it’s based on a true story. Author Eric Jager wrote about it in his 2004 book, “The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France.”

Director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) helms this tale of two knights and a duel to the death after a terrible accusation.  

The event really was the last government-sanctioned trial by combat toward the end of the 14th Century in France. In “Rashomon” style, the film tells the story of what led up to the duel in three chapters from three different points of view, with the last from the perspective of the truth.

Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon), is a coarse knight, while his friend is the educated Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver.) Both serve Pierre d’Alencon (Ben Affleck), who favors Jacques.

Jean marries Marguerite (Jodie Comer, ”Free Guy”), the daughter of a landowner with a bad reputation. Marguerite, more of a possession than a wife, is supposed to give Jean an heir. She is looked down upon by her mother-in-law (Harriet Walter in a wonderful Mrs. Danvers-esque role.)

After Jacques discovers the beauty and intelligence of Marguerite, he cannot stop thinking about her. When Jean returns home one day, Marguerite accuses Jacques of a terrible act, and the former friends end up in a duel to the death.

The first part is told the way Jean sees it, the second from Jacques’ point of view and the third and truthful chapter from Marguerite’s perspective.

Damon and Affleck wrote the script with Nicole Holofcener. The movie contains action, yes, but it’s not an action movie.

This is grownup stuff. While “Halloween Kills” bursts forth from neighboring screens, “Last Duel” also contains quite a bit of graphic bloodshed, as well as a sexual assault scene.

For grownups, it’s a chance to see a solid, often-disturbing drama that’s well-acted by an entertaining ensemble.

It is a tale of misogyny set against the background of a plague … draw your own conclusions as to its modern-day parallels.

3 stars

Rated: R for foul language, sexual situations, gore and graphic violence.

At Cinemark, Davenport; Regal, Moline; and Palms 10, Muscatine.

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