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In the new 20th Century Studios project, friends Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) become enemies after de Carrouges’ wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) accuses Le Gris of rape.
The Ridley Scott-directed film, based on actual events and adapted from Eric Jager’s 2004 book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France, follows Marguerite as she refuses to stay silent when Le Gris denies her claims of the violent assault. The men soon participate in a trial by combat, where they duel to the death.
While The Last Duel deals heavily with violence against a woman, Nicole Holofcener — who co-wrote the screenplay with Damon and Ben Affleck — said the film was “not at all” inspired by the #MeToo movement. “We obviously can make the connection. We knew people would read it as that in a way, but we just wanted to tell this story — her story — and not be preachy or pretend to understand what other victims go through,” she told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s New York City premiere on Saturday.
Damon added that he knew the film would be compared to the movement, saying, “it certainly feels like a movie that’s relevant today.”
The cowriter and star shared that the film’s mission was for viewers understand that Marguerite told the truth about the assault. “As filmmakers, we wanted to make it clear that this is not a both-sides thing. Hopefully everyone comes out of the movie with the understanding that she’s telling the truth,” he said.
“The only person who should not be clear of that is Adam Driver’s character and that’s what was interesting to us. Can somebody’s acculturation and their experience completely blind them to their actions and the affect that they’re having on someone else?” Damon continued. “That seemed like a really interesting thing to explore.”
Damon explained that The Last Duel is not about the villain “doing something that he knows is wrong” and is instead about “the system that really was raping this woman from the moment she was born.”
Comer told THR that she “just had to focus on Marguerite, on her story and on making sure she was fully fleshed out and connect that to the time,” rather than to a larger #MeToo message, though the cast and crew did feel “a duty of care knowing that there are still so many people who experience this act of violence today and knowing that will be difficult for people to watch and wanting the depiction to be truthful and handled sensitively.”
Actress Harriet Walter said from her standpoint, however, the #MeToo movement “certainly informs” the film. “You can’t watch it without feeling those issues and parallels resonating,” she said.
Walter also praised the film’s screenplay writing team for writing with an “enlightened attitude.” She said, “I think it’s a feminist film in that Matt [Damon] and Ben [Affleck] have been very generous and very self-effacing in a way that we don’t think men usually are. They are exceptional in that they are prepared to look at the nasty, ugly side of the male character.”
Similar to many productions in the past year, The Last Duel was forced shut down filming for months amid the coronavirus pandemic. Once the cast and crew returned to set following the hiatus, Comer said she grew to appreciate the film even more.
“I really loved seeing everyone’s gusto and everyone was so grateful to be back and appreciative,” she said. “You can get a little complacent; people start moaning about the early mornings. And then after five months everyone was just, ‘We want to get back. We want to finish this.’Everyone was so passionate.”
This film marks the second screenplay writing collaboration for Damon and Affleck, who previously won the best original screenplay Oscar in 1998 for Good Will Hunting.
Despite their first film’s overwhelming success, Damon said the duo didn’t feel “pressured” for their second collaborative effort, and their only goal was to “write something that we love.”
“It was great that everyone loved Good Will Hunting and that it got a lot of attention, but that’s not a thing that we had any control of,” Damon said. “What we had control of in that situation is what we have control of in this situation, which is the script and the thing that we hand to the director and we’re really proud of that work.”
Damon explained that he and Affleck (who also has a costarring role) “shamelessly begged” Holofcener to co-write the screenplay with them and added that they’re “so happy” with the final product.
Holofcener also spoke about writing with the pair and said it was “flattering and thrilling” that they wanted to work with her.
“They had inside jokes and laughs about the past and they know each other so well, but it really didn’t matter. We all worked together really well. It was really fun despite the grim nature of the movie,” she said. “Getting that right was really, really important.”
The Last Duel hits theaters on Friday.
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