In Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel,” the first of two Adam Driver-led features on the schedule for this fall, there is a line of dialogue so potent and blatant in cutting to the story’s core that one can feel the Leonardo DiCaprio “pointing at the screen” meme buzzing just outside the picture’s frame. It’s spoken by Nicole de Buchard (Harriet Walter) to her daughter-in-law Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer), in regards to the moral quandary the younger woman finds herself in. “The truth does not matter,” de Buchard insists, “There is only the power of men.”
A little on the nose for a movie about the last legally sanctioned duel in French history, fought between two former best friends over a rape accusation against the backdrop of the Hundred Years War? Maybe, but it’s not like Scott has always made a career out of being the subtlest guy in the room. “The Last Duel” is exactly the sort of brawny, textured screed Scott, as a visual storyteller, is so well suited for. It is a timely, engrossing, and exhilarating watch bolstered by a sharp script, killer performances, and the usual amount of fire and flair from a filmmaker who has spent decades making this kind of picture seem effortless.
But it is also a film poised to inspire a truly noxious online discourse surrounding its narrative and themes, both from purposely bad faith readings of the text and just the general decline in the way morality is discussed in mainstream cinema. Whether or not such post-game scuttlebutt affects the film’s chances as awards season moves into full swing remains to be seen, but for all its thorny material, “The Last Duel” certainly feels like a triumph. If the forthcoming “House of Gucci” is even close to this compelling, this will prove to have been Scott’s best year in decades.