In 'The Last Duel,' Historical Realism Is Defeated By Matt Damon And Ben Affleck's Faces
Sir Ridley Scott fans, rejoiceth! Last week saw the release of the trailer for The Last Duel and, instead of another lame sci-fi about aliens or androids, it’s the long-awaited return of the filmmaker’s greatest movie franchise: Overly Detailed Period Pieces About State Endorsed Violence.
The Last Duel is a historical biopic about the Dark Age practice of being innocent until stabbed to death. Set during the 100 Year War, the movie tells the true story of frenemies Sir Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) fighting a duel to the death after de Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses Le Gris of raping her. Unsure whether to believe a woman or burn her alive for speaking out, mad kinglet Charles VI decided to skip the ‘he said, she said’ legalities and let violence do the talking in France's last lawfully sanctioned trials by Thunderdome: two legal parties enter, one party leaves.
Yet despite being one the most well-documented Medieval legal cases and Ridley Scott always making sure his historical movies have their i’s dotted and fleurs de lis’ed (he even directed this one during a plague, such dedication!) The Last Duel doesn’t feel like you’re experiencing something historically accurate. Maybe it’s Scott’s slightly too flashy directorial style. Maybe it’s that the movie’s main theme is surprisingly zeitgeisty, dealing with the Medieval equivalent of #MeToo. Or maybe it’s that half of the movie’s main cast looks less like feudal knights and more like Iron Maiden roadies on their way to a Ren Faire.
Yes, along with Scott and duels, this movie also hosts the overdue reunion of Benjamon with Matt Damon’s Sir Jean playing opposite Ben Affleck’s Lord Pierre, the count of Flavortown. The iconic film couple not only stars in but also co-wrote The Last Duel, making it their first on- and off-screen collaboration since their Academy award-winning kickass superspy buddy comedy Good Will Hunting. And there’s just something about a period piece from the two most quintessentially backward baseball-capped boys from Boston (well, nearby Boston) that doesn’t reassure you that this movie knows anything knights, living in feudal times, or growing a proper goatee.
That something is called a lack of “period face,” the film industry’s term to describe why some actors perfectly sync with their piece’s periods while others look about as believable in a historical drama as drops of blue liquid do in a Tampax commercial. For example, there’s something about Timothée Chalamet's slight hemophiliac hue that lets him convincingly play princelings from the age of antiquity to the age of sandworms. But watching a similarly fair Keanu Reeves strut around in pantaloons feels as natural as watching an e-girl trying to work a rotary phone.
Not that it’s even a matter of being classically good-looking -- emphasis on the classic. Steve Buscemi was believable as a Prohibition-era gangster in Boardwalk Empire because his face looks like it knows the horrors of polio. Meanwhile, Jessica Biel can wear all the turn-of-the-century hoop skirts she wants but will still look as out of place in a castle as a Starbucks cup.
Likewise, even in its wordless trailer, having Driver and Comer, who you instantly believe know how to restring a bow or weave a Bayeux tapestry, share the same period-filled air with Damon and Affleck, who you just know are still wearing their blue Oxford shirts underneath that chainmail, makes The Last Duel feel like a particularly budget-heavy SNL sketch.
Ridley Scott has a deserved reputation as being one of the most period face-proof filmmakers in Hollywood. This is a man who successfully cast Orlando Bloom as a grim crusader, Harvey Keitel as a Bonapartist with a Brooklyn accent, and Russell Crowe as Maximus Robinus Hoodius. But even he might not be able to overcome the 90’s taint of Damon and Affleck, who cause such a glitch in time you’ll spend the entirety of The Last Duel wondering when the crowd of peasant spectators will start chanting, “We Will Rock You.”
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Top Image: 20th Century Studios