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Medieval Madness

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Adam Driver and Matt Damon in The Last Duel. (20th Century Studios) Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel is a violent visit to a strange time, not a #MeToo for the Middle Ages.

For the first hour or so, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel struck me as possibly another Rotten Ridley, in the same category with his terrible costume dramas Robin Hood and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Adam Driver and Matt Damon as medieval French knights, with a blonde Ben Affleck as “Pierre,” the local nobleman they serve? All very odd. Damon was surprisingly good as an Okie in Stillwater, but don’t put him in a suit of armor and ask him to do one of those half-British accents everyone did in 1960s historical epics. As for Driver, who is only slightly less awkward, we saw him try to be medieval in Silence, and it didn’t work so well. Some actors can’t transcend their eras and shouldn’t be asked to do period pieces.

Affleck, however, is so full-on modern in this 1386-set movie that he gives the movie something of the feel of The Great, the intentionally anachronistic and very funny Hulu series about the reign of imperial Russia’s Peter the Great, and his conception of the movie gradually takes over. It’s odd that Affleck and Damon are not on the same page, with the former loose and jokey and dropping F-bombs while the latter is stiff and pained. If I had Damon’s mullet, I’d be in a foul mood, too, but his performance slows down the movie’s progress: In its second half, it turns into an effective black comedy.

The screenplay, based on the novel by Eric Jager, was written by Affleck and Damon — their first script together since they won an Oscar for writing Good Will Hunting. They brought on the New York filmmaker Nicole Holofcener as a third writer to create a writing structure that imitates what happens on screen: three versions of the same story, two told by men and one by a woman. After a friendship turns poisonous between two knights,

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