The Last Duel: Gruelling viewing
THE LAST DUEL (18, 153 mins)
Drama/Romance/Action. Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Nathaniel Parker, Alex Lawther. Director: Ridley Scott.
Rating: Three stars
BASED on true events documented in Eric Jager's 2004 book, Ridley Scott's historical drama unfolds in bloated chapters from the perspectives of three main characters a la Akira Kurosawa's influential 1950 psychological thriller Rashomon.
Each lengthy testimony is penned by a different writer, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener, who offer conflicting evidence about events leading to the sexual assault of a wife while her husband is away at war.
The final chapter penned by Holofcener gives a voice to the abused heroine, played with gusto by Jodie Comer, culminating in a brilliantly staged showdown on horseback and foot that will decide her fate.
If God guides her husband's sword to victory in front of a baying crowd, she will be vindicated. If her spouse falls, her version of events will be declared untrue and she will be put to death too.
Co-stars Matt Damon and Adam Driver subtly alter their portrayals of feuding noblemen when they are the heroic narrator or supposed villain of a particular chapter.
Repetition is a blessing and curse, sustaining interest as we scrutinise inconsistencies in each version of events but also testing our resolve as the running time trots, unnecessarily, over two and a half hours.
In the wintry final days of 1386, knight Jean de Carrouges (Damon) and squire Jacques Le Gris (Driver) fight side-by-side under the banner of King Charles VI (Alex Lawther) but it is the latter who curries favour with Count Pierre d'Alencon (Ben Affleck) and secures a captaincy destined for Jean.
To rub salt into fresh wounds, Jacques's promotion includes land belonging to Sir Robert de Thibouville (Nathaniel Parker), which had been promised to Jean as part of the wedding dowry of his daughter Marguerite (Comer).
Jean bears the scars of losing a wife and child to the plague and he is under pressure from his waspish mother (Harriet Walter) to produce a male heir.
"I did not have this problem with my first wife," Jean cruelly snaps at Marguerite after his efforts between the sheets fail to produce the desired results.
He canters off to war and returns to tearful Marguerite, who claims Jacques forced his way into their home and sexually assaulted her.
According to medieval law, rape "is not a crime against a woman. It is a property crime against her man".
Thus, Jean seeks a judicial duel to the death with Jacques.
Comer outshines Damon and Driver, who meet the gruelling physical demands of mud-spattered battle sequences, directed with typical brio by Scott in a throwback to the limb-hacking fury of Gladiator.