MOVIE REVIEW: The Last Duel (2021) – Ridley Scott’s Latest Medieval Masterpiece

By: Micah Burkholder | Contributor

Photo credit: Cinema Daily U.S.

I’ve always loved Ridley Scott, and I’ve always considered him to be one of the greatest directors ever. He has made some of my favorite movies, the kind that made him very influential across numerous movie genres. “The Last Duel” is Scott’s latest movie, and this movie might just be one of the greatest things he’s ever done. 

The plot is based on true events and revolves around two squire knights played by Matt Damon and Adam Driver. It is a story about two egocentric men playing at power and subjugating women, all the while using conceptions of concepts such as duty, loyalty, and fealty to God as the pretexts for their petty, criminal actions. King Charles VI declares that Knight Jean de Carrouges settle his dispute with his squire by challenging him to a duel. 

The storytelling in this movie is very powerful. The overall message the movie brings to the table is executed to the point where it’s very believable, the kind of believability that inches its way to the audience to make everything more realistic than it is. Having Damon and Ben Affleck as writers and actors for this movie was a smart move to bring its moral themes, symbolism and message into the 153-minute runtime. The storytelling takes its time to establish every main character, and it does so in a very stylistic way.

The reason why the cinematography is presented the way it appears in “The Last Duel” is to showcase the weight and balance of its characters and its war scenes. Being dramatic with the way the characters move and how the execution of these characters standing out above the rest has always been Scott’s strongest point. The only other movie that came out in 2021 that I could think of that leaves you wondering about this is “The Green Knight”, which I deem a cinematic masterpiece. The cinematography in “The Last Duel” is living art.

“The Last Duel” has no CGI whatsoever, and I’m glad it doesn’t. Modern audiences tend to go to a theater to mostly just see a bunch of fight scenes with over-the-top CGI and practical effects. That is not always the case with dramatic movies made to test you and let you know of the movie’s ultimate message. So this time around, I’ll focus on if this movie is spectacular from a choreography perspective.

Scott is one of the best directors at directing a sword fight and making it look epic and exciting. I can confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that every fight scene executed in this movie is better than most fight sequences found in movies released this year. The way armor is used in this film is very effective, and the way the sound is used with swords clashing and armor protecting the body is all done satisfyingly. The actual duel in “The Last Duel” is everything I wanted from this movie and more. And yes… this movie has much better fight scenes than every movie in the MCU, in my opinion.

Scott’s films have always had legendary actors giving us the most fabulous pieces of acting ever put in a movie. Damon, Affleck and Driver appear in this movie, blessing us with their powerful acting. I don’t know much about Jodie Corner nor her career as an actress, but I can guarantee that her performance in this film is just as amazing as the three male actors I just listed. The voice acting in “The Last Duel” is so great that every actor in this movie deserves an Oscar for best acting. I’ve never seen voice acting in this movie this powerful since Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the Joker in “Joker”. The acting never feels stiff and it never slows down or cheapens the movie’s storytelling. Every movie with this kind of acting deserves nominations for awards, which I hope this movie gets in next year’s Oscars.

A few people may have heard about Harry Gregson-Williams and his music in cinema and even in gaming. His most noticeable music is found in “Metal Gear Solid 4”, a game that every gamer should check out. The music in “The Last Duel” ranges from simple to pure epicness whenever the action happens. The musical score in this movie was moving and gave me all kinds of emotions I wouldn’t expect myself to have. I believe Gregson-Williams and Ramin Djawadi would be best friends for how powerful their composing scores are. Djawadi’s music in “Game of Thrones” is one of many reasons why that show won Best Drama in the 2019 Emmys. “The Last Duel” has a soundtrack that is unforgettable and very pleasing to my ears every time I hear it. The medieval kind of music played in the second act and third act of this film simply made me feel good inside. I count as somebody who listens to medieval music for pleasure, enjoyment and while exercising. The soundtrack in this movie is my cup of tea.

The editing and camerawork in “The Last Duel” are also worth mentioning in this review. Like I said with the cinematography, the editing in this film ranges from pure epicness to pure beauty. It never has any shaky-cam moments, it doesn’t have any cutaways or cuts to black whenever something violent happens. The film makes sure you experience all of this and never releases your hand from their grasp. The camera is always smooth and moves perfectly with all the action happening on screen. The editing and camerawork in “The Last Duel” are phenomenal.

My issue with this movie bombing at the box office is that many people were very skeptical about this film’s plot. There is also the kind of viewers who are simply not into medieval movies, and that’s perfectly fine. There will also be the kind of viewers who never want to see Scott make another movie again because of the Alien prequels, and that’s an issue in my book. “Prometheus” was a movie that didn’t impress a lot of Alien fans, but it impressed me a whole lot.

People might also wager this film bombing at the box office because of its #MeToo message that many people would argue does not belong in a medieval movie. This is a movie that takes place in the Hundred Years’ War where women were executed if they were found guilty, mostly of witchcraft and heresy. So, of course, a message like that will turn a lot of heads and make the easily offended look at this movie without any clear arguments as to why it might be bad.

The movie may not have had the best marketing, it may not have successfully competed with popular movies like “Let There Be Carnage” or “Dune”, or rather the movies that appeal more to modern audiences taste. But you know how this movie truly succeeds? How it portrays life set in the Hundred Years’ War, how it executes its message before the viewers and how beautifully Ridley Scott films these sequences and builds up the duel near the last hour of this movie.

“The Last Duel” is a gorgeous movie from the first five minutes to the final thirty minutes. It is a movie that never slows down its intensity whenever something nightmarish happens to the female character. Damon and Driver’s performances are powerful when important conversations happen. It is one of the only movies that came out in recent memory where such beauty and life is released into 153 minutes. Every single minute of this movie had me on the edge of my seat and never released me from its grasp.

“The Last Duel” is a cinematic masterpiece and the latest magnificent film in Scott’s filmography of epic historical movies. This film has a beautiful, engaging story about how a woman commits an act of bravery and defiance that stands the test of time. Without a doubt, this movie is worth every second of your time, and it is another masterpiece by Ridley Scott.