Release Date(s)2021 (December 14, 2021)
Studio(s)Scott Free/Pearl Street/TSG Entertainment/20th Century Studios (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) are friends and ambitious squires in 14th century France, who have pledged themselves to a life of faithful service to their count, Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck), and his cousin King Charlies VI. But the similarity between the two men ends there, for while Jacques enjoys the favor of his count, and that favor’s many rewards, it seems that Jean can do no right by his master. When Jean’s father dies, rather than inheriting the captaincy and fort that is his birthright, the count awards the position and its holdings to Jacques instead. And when Jacques begins to covet Jean’s wife too, the Lady Marguerite (Jodie Comer)—and acts upon that desire—Jean’s honor can bare no further insult. Against his count’s wishes, Jean accuses Jacques of raping Marguerite and challenges him to a duel, a trial by combat before God, the outcome of which will determine not only Jean and Jacques’ fates, but Marguerite’s as well.
Directed by Ridley Scott with his usual world-building aplomb, The Last Duel is—at least on the surface—an adaptation of Eric Jager’s 2004 historical novel of the same name, based on semi-true events. But let’s be honest about what it really is, a fairly direct clone of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), told in a medieval setting, with a script by Affleck, Damon, and Nicole Holofcener (who won a Writer’s Guild Award for the screenplay to Can You Ever Forgive Me?). The production itself is beautiful mounted by Scott and company, it’s exquisitely shot by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, and the cast delivers solid performances across the board, particularly Comer (best known for her role in the BBC spy drama Killing Eve). If you haven’t actually seen Rashomon, which also tells the story of a rape from three different and contradictory perspectives, you might find this film perfectly compelling. But if you have seen the Kurosawa classic, this is basically just Affleck, Damon, Driver, and Comer doing a pale imitation, with the payoff being a titular duel of swords and lances that predictably adheres to convention. And at the end of the day, that either holds some appeal to you as a moviegoer… or it doesn’t. The fact that The Last Duel bombed at the box office suggests that, for most of you at least, it’s the latter.
The Last Duel was captured digitally by Wolski in the ARRIRAW codec (at 4.5K) using Arri Alexa LF and Mini LF cameras, with Panavision Primo 70 lenses, and it was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, the image has been graded for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is included on this disc). The result is mostly outstanding, save for the fact that the film’s largely gloomy settings, subdued lighting, and frequent atmospherics only occasionally give the image the chance to reveal its merits. When these do appear, what’s in evidence is an abundance of detail and clean, refined texturing. The film’s palette tends toward the cool for most of its running time, but the 10-bit HDR renders deep blacks, pleasing shadow detail, and bold highlights that benefit oppressive skies, firelight, candlelight, and the metallic sheen of weapons and ornamentation. The colors are largely subdued, yet reveal added nuance in grassy fields, battered armor plates, stonework, and textiles. All in all, this is an impressive image, but one that dazzles truly infrequently.
20th Century Studios’ 4K disc includes its primary audio in an English Dolby Atmos mix that does at least have a bit more chance to flex its muscle. The soundstage is big, wide, and immersive, with plenty of aggressive bluster and firm bass in battle scenes. This bolstered by fine and steady ambience in the rear channels and overheads, precise staging with a good sense of depth, and impressive creation of sonic spaces in quieter scenes—both inside castle halls and outside the walls. The dialogue is clear and well prioritized. Music is integrated smoothly into the mix. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, with subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
There are no extras whatsoever on the 4K disc, however the package comes with a Blu-ray that includes the film in 1080p HD (with audio available in English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish). That disc adds the following:
- The Making of The Last Duel (HD – 33:48)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:29)
Interestingly, the behind-the-scenes featurette was directed by Cuba Scott, Ridley’s granddaughter. As a “making of,” it’s not especially revealing or comprehensive. But framed as Cuba’s quest to understand the filmmaking process and her grandfather’s approach to it (especially during a time of COVID), it becomes somewhat more compelling. She’s clearly been given trusted access, and the result has been assembled with unexpected style and perspective that makes it worthy of your time. The film’s trailer has also been included on the Blu-ray, and there’s the usual Digital code on a paper insert in the packaging.
Ridley Scott has rather infamously blamed the failure of The Last Duel on “the millennian” who “do not ever want to be taught anything unless you are told it on the cell phone,” thus creating no small amount of meme fodder on social media. But I think the reality is that this is simply the kind of film that today’s audiences can either take or leave. If you do choose to take it, my guess is that you’ll probably enjoy the experience more than you imagined. As for me, I found mildly engaging but also a bit of a slog. I’d much rather have spent the afternoon reviewing Ridley Scott’s vastly superior Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut in 4K Ultra HD instead. (Where is that disc, 20th Century Studios?)
- Bill Hunt