The Last Duel (18) ***
Ron’s Gone Wrong (U) ***
Halloween Kills (18) **
Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic, The Last Duel, shouldn’t be mistaken for some kind of belated sequel or prequel to his first film The Duellists. Set more than four centuries apart, the latter was a pistols-at-dawn affair set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars; the new film, meanwhile, features men jousting to defend their wounded pride in a medieval France shot through with a post-MeToo sensibility.
That’s the hook for bringing this based-on-true-events story behind the last legally sanctioned duel in France’s history to the big screen. It stars Matt Damon and Adam Driver as, respectively, Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, friends in the army of King Charles VI who fall out when Le Gris wins the favour the King’s playboy cousin Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck) and is later accused by Jean’s wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer) of rape. At the root of their rivalry is not the attack on Marguerite, but a dispute over a piece of land promised to Jean as part of his marriage dowry – a fact the film uses to ram home the extent to which women are viewed as property, not human beings.
If that makes the film’s sexual politics sound blunt, well, they are. But it also makes a valiant effort to dismantle notions of chivalric honour by telling the story Rashomon-style from the perspectives of each of its main characters. Co-written by Damon, Affleck and indie auteur Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said), the film sees each writer take it in turns to script a chapter, with Damon doing his own, Affleck doing Driver’s and Holofcener writing Comer’s.
True, it’s slightly unfortunate for the film’s feminist credentials that by the time we get to Marguerite’s point-of-view she doesn’t need quite as much screen time to get her truth across. Nevertheless, Comer is a formidable enough presence to make it work and Holofcener gives her some withering lines that reinforce the danger she is in just for speaking out. Elsewhere, Damon and Driver play pretty much to type, albeit with former’s usual stoic heroism and the latter’s roguish charms reframed in a less forgiving light. Affleck, meanwhile, writes himself an entertainingly juicy part as the louche count and Scott shoots the titular showdown with all the bloody, flesh-ripping tension you’d expect from the director of Gladiator.
Revolving around a lonely kid who befriends a malfunctioning robot, Ron’s Gone Wrong plays like an algorithmically assembled riff on ET, Wreck it Ralph, Big Hero 6 and West World. That’s more than a little ironic given this latest Disney animation also functions as gentle take-down of big tech and its insidious efforts to turn kids into consumers. Mercifully it’s also a lot of fun, which makes it a little easier to swallow its do-as-I-say moralising about the need for kids to connect with each other rather than via each other’s devices.
The story revolves around an endearing school misfit called Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer) who feels increasingly ostracised by the fact that he’s the only kid in his class not to own a B-Bot: a social-media-ready robot buddy designed by a tech giant called Bubble to ensure no kid ever feels alone again... unless they can’t afford one that is (in a clear nod to Apple’s Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Bubble is run by a goofy tech genius and his more ruthless co-founder). But when Barney gets his hands on Ron (Zack Galifianakis), a factory reject purchased off the back of a lorry by his cash-strapped dad (Ed Helms), its flaws turn out to be its strengths as his and Barney’s off-the-grid existence forces them to learn from each other, not from the data that Bubble is collecting on everyone else.
As thematically ambitious as that sounds, what follows lacks the conceptual leaps we get from Pixar, but it’s a solid, gag-stuffed adventure nonetheless and Olivia Colman is a hoot as the voice of Donka, Barney’s Bulgarian, slightly mad grandmother.
The more murders Michael Myers commits the more powerful he becomes, explains a character in Halloween Kills. Unfortunately the other main take-away from this latest instalment of the horror franchise is that the more filmmakers slash away at the mythology of the original film, the less menacing the whole thing seems.
A direct sequel to the 40th anniversary sequel/reboot/whatever that came out in 2018, this one picks up the action on the same Halloween night as the previous film (which brought back Jamie Lee Curtis), yet it also jumps back in time to 1978 so that returning director David Gordon Green can create an epilogue to John Carpenter’s game-changing original that will allow him to expand the 2018-set story in ways that link the two together more forcefully.
As fun as some of Green’s narrative trickery is, though, his main innovation here is to turn the tables on Michael by having the residents of Haddonfield take the fight to him. This leads to one frenzied and pretty effective set-piece involving an angry mob pursuing the wrong man. But having chosen to also confine Curtis’s character to a hospital bed for much of the running time, the film ultimately doesn’t have much to offer beyond upping the body count in elaborately grisly ways in preparation for next year’s already announced concluding chapter Halloween Ends.
The Last Duel, Ron’s Gone Wrong and Halloween Kills are in cinemas from 15 October
A message from the Editor
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription at https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions