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MOVIE REVIEWS: 'Halloween Kills,' 'The Last Duel'

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Matt Damon (left) and Jodie Comer in "The Last Duel." 

One way to tackle a difficult, challenging, taboo or otherwise complicated subject on film is to set the story in a period far, far away from our recognizable present, which often allows screenwriters to be that much more frank about the topic at hand. In “The Last Duel,” directed by Ridley Scott, a 14th century setting offers screenwriters Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, adapting a book by Eric Jager, the opportunity to unpack the hypocrisy of modern rape culture via the gender politics of medieval France, demonstrating not how modern these issues were, but how regressive many current viewpoints remain.

“The Last Duel” plays with perspective in order to lay out the truth of the conflict behind what is considered to be the last recorded judicial trial by combat. The story unfolds “Rashomon”-style, in three chapters, with the truth presented according to Sir Jean de Carrouges (Damon), Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) and Marguerite de Carrouges (Jodie Comer). There’s never any question about whose truth reigns supreme, as Scott puts his thumb on the scale, visually.

At first, Damon and Affleck, with their modern movie star celebrity, strain credulity as medieval French aristocrats, outfitted in period dress and hideous haircuts, delivering dialogue about medieval French politics in unaccented English. Damon, his face scarred, sporting a rough mullet, is the warrior and soon-to-be-knight Jean de Carrouges, possessed not of charm or education, but a historic and noble name. His friend and fellow squire, Jacques Le Gris, has no ties to aristocracy, but he’s handsome, suave, and well-read. Jean’s nemesis is Count Pierre d’Alencon (Affleck), a dandy, a libertine, and he soon comes between the two war pals. As incongruous as the casting may seem, it eventually reveals itself as perfect for telling this story.

Contrary to most period pieces about knights and duels, not one of these men are heroes or heroic in any way. Soon, we meet the true hero of “The Last Duel,” Marguerite. Comer’s casting is a stroke of brilliance; she shines so brightly on screen she eclipses everyone else, and for this role, rightfully so. The men almost immediately reveal themselves to be the worst.

The screenwriters litter the trial with verbal Easter eggs ripped from the headlines, and the “Rashomon” device is the perfect way to represent the he said/she said battles that shape the litigation of sexual assault cases. “The Last Duel” is perhaps the first big budget prestige period piece to take its broad sword to rape culture from a female perspective, and it’s a startlingly sharp assessment.

(R, 3.5 of 4, 2 hr. 32 min.)

-- Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

'Halloween Kills'

In 2018, horror mogul Jason Blum revived one of the longest-running horror franchises, “Halloween,” inviting filmmaker David Gordon Green to take a spin through Haddonfield. Blum got the whole gang back together, enlisting “Halloween” auteur John Carpenter to compose one of his inimitable synthy scores, and the Final Girl herself, Jamie Lee Curtis, reprised her role as Laurie Strode, 40 years later. The emotional core of “Halloween” 2018 was a careful examination of intergenerational trauma and hard-fought redemption. 

Green and the gang are back again with “Halloween Kills,” an attempt to widen the scope of traumatic influence that Michael Myers has had on Haddonfield. It’s a good idea, to examine the community repercussions of Michael’s bloody destruction, and to bring back some of his original survivors, like Lindsey, one of the original babysitting charges, played in 1978 and 2021 by Kyle Richards of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills." But the execution is distressingly messy, a chaotic tangle of too many storylines.

What’s frustrating about “Halloween Kills” is the lack of focus. We get very little of Laurie, as she’s confined to the hospital, delivering speeches about Michael Myers controlling us through fear, and far too much time with new characters, though many are sketched in almost offensively broad strokes. Cameos from actors who appeared in the original film and a series of increasingly gruesome kills serve as a perfunctory gesture toward pleasing fans and gore-hounds, though it all feels narratively hollow and emotionally bereft. In trying to do too much, “Halloween Kills” ends up doing nothing at all, other than tarnishing this franchise’s good name.

(R, 1.5 of 4 stars, 1 hr. 46 min.)

-- Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service




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