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'The Last Duel' was inspired by a real trial by combat in medieval France


We have news from France from the year 1386. That's when a man accused of a horrific crime was sentenced to a trial by combat.


JODIE COMER: (As Marguerite de Carrouges) I want him to answer for what he has done.


BEN AFFLECK: (As Pierre d'Alencon) The most unspeakable charge has been brought against you.

ADAM DRIVER: (As Jacques Le Gris) I am innocent of the crime.

MATT DAMON: (As Jean de Carrouges) I request a duel to the death.

INSKEEP: We're hearing a film made of a real-life event from the 1300s. It's called "The Last Duel." Matt Damon and Adam Driver are among the stars. And it depicts the last trial by combat that was officially recognized in France. Our film critic Kenneth Turan is here to tell us about it. Hey there, Ken.


INSKEEP: Since it's a true story, let's talk about the people at the center of it. Who are they?

TURAN: Well, one of them is played by Matt Damon and the other by Adam Driver. They're combat buddies. One is a knight; one is a squire. And they start as kind of friends, but Matt Damon's character gets married. Adam Driver's character is accused of raping Matt Damon's wife. And that's the crux of the story.

INSKEEP: The wife is played by Jodie Comer, who people will know from "Killing Eve." So that is what sets these two men at odds is - I don't want to say a conflict over a woman. It was a crime. It was an assault of a woman.

TURAN: It's a crime. You know, one of the screenwriters - there's three screenwriters - Matt Damon, Ben Affleck - who've collaborated before. But this time they also brought in a writer named Nicole Holofcener, who's known for these exquisitely modern comic dramas - "Friends With Money," "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" You know, I would have bet my life that Nicole Holofcener would not be writing a film about battles in 14th-century France.

But they brought her in because despite its medieval setting, it's got modern concerns. It really is interested in the horrible place of women in this society, a society where women were property, where - there's a wonderful line in the script that says there is no right; there is only the power of men. This is kind of the anti-Camelot. This is not chivalry. This is a bleak, brutal world. But you feel it's real. And it's so interesting to sense these modern concerns flowing like a river through all this violence.

INSKEEP: I guess we should underline. By bringing in different perspectives, you're assuring that the woman is not just an object in this. You see it from her point of view.

TURAN: Yes. And in fact, the way it broke down was that Nicole Holofcener basically wrote the woman's section of the film. You know, one of the things - there are several things that are fascinating about this film. I mean, the first thing is that Ridley Scott is the man who directed it. Ridley Scott is a great creator of worlds - "Blade Runner," "Gladiator," "Alien." No one takes us to other places the way Ridley Scott can do it. So you have him taking us back to 14th-century France.

I loved seeing the credits. I mean, this was a film that have credit for a chainmail maker, credit for supervising armorer. There were three people involved with the pennants. There are so many pennants flapping in the wind, they needed three people to be responsible for them. And this film also has a credit I've never seen before. It has now become one of my all-time favorite credits - castle cleaning service.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) You mean you don't have someone to clean your castle, Ken?

TURAN: (Laughter) I've looked into it. They're hard to find, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's true, especially now. Nobody can find anybody to do any work. But you're doing this work reviewing this film for us. Kenneth Turan talking about "The Last Duel." Thanks so much.

TURAN: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF HARRY GREGSON-WILLIAMS' "THE DUEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.