In Praise Of Ben Affleck's Scene-Stealing Performance In The Last Duel

You have to hand it to Ben Affleck: when he co-wrote "The Last Duel," the Ridley Scott-directed historical drama that just opened in theaters, he sneakily went ahead and wrote the best part for himself. Affleck, Boston's favorite son, King of Dunkin Donuts, and tabloid star at large, only has a minor role in "The Last Duel," but he makes every single one of his scenes count. And he looks like he's having fun in the process.

Affleck plays Count Pierre d'Alençon, and while we see him briefly in the opening in medias res moment (all movies and TV shows must start in medias res now, it's a law), he doesn't say anything. He simply sits in the stands with onlookers ready to watch the titular last duel, his lips tight, eyebrows raised, hair questionable. And then he's gone. He's gone so long, in fact, that we start to forget about him.

Which makes his return all the more wonderful. "The Last Duel" is split into three segments told from three distinct character perspectives, and Affleck's Count doesn't have a single scene in the first segment. But when it comes time for segment two – which is focused on Adam Driver's unscrupulous Jacques Le Gris – it's time for the Count to make his big entrance. And he does, with Affleck's first line of dialogue peppered with F-bombs as he refers to Matt Damon's character, Jean de Carrouges, as "f***ing boring."

There's a lot of anachronistic elements running through "The Last Duel," particularly when Affleck shows up. And you know what? It's fine. "The Last Duel" isn't a documentary. True, it's based on a true story, but the film is also taking some serious liberties to tell the best story possible. And the best story possible just happens to involve Ben Affleck sporting a bleach-blond Prince Valiant haircut with a goatee to match.

A Lusty, Drunken Party Animal

As played by Affleck, the Count is a lusty, drunken party-animal; a medieval bro in a golden robe who is always up for a fun-filled night of reading bawdy poetry (that's what they did back then). He's also fond of orgies (that's what they did back then, and also now), and there are multiple scenes where the Count advises Driver's character to take off his pants and join the fun (and Driver does, so if you ever wanted to see a movie that implies Adam Driver and Ben Affleck got in on some orgy action together, the time is now). Affleck's character doesn't vape in "The Last Duel," but you get the sense that he really wants to, even though vaping hasn't been invented yet. 

Affleck shares almost all his scenes exclusively with Driver, and the two actors develop a great rapport with one another. Driver's character Le Gris grows close to Affleck's Count and rises in the ranks thanks to the Count's favor. Pierre even asks Le Gris to balance his books since his finances are in ruins (he's too busy drinking and screwing to collect the money he's owed).

This leads to one of the movie's funniest moments ("The Last Duel" is pretty damn grim, but almost all of Affleck's scenes are humorous, which probably goes a long way toward making his performance so memorable). Le Gris is up late one night going over the finances, using an abacus to keep track of everything. In strolls the Count, clearly drunk and ready to party. After a brief conversation, the Count picks up the abacus. The moment he lifts it, Le Gris cries out, "My lord, no!" But it's too late – the Count instantly smashes the abacus to pieces, for no real reason other than being a jerk. He immediately says "Sorry!" as he strolls out the door.

It feels wholly spontaneous, and I wouldn't be surprised if Affleck improvised it. But even if he didn't, he makes the small-but-memorable bit stand out just by the way he handles it; the casual, non-plussed destruction followed by a weak apology delivered over his shoulder as he walks out of the room. It also perfectly underscores what makes Affleck's character so special: he just doesn't care. Yes, he goes through with all the formal customs and pomp and circumstance required of him, but he doesn't really care. And you get a sense he knows it's all absolute rubbish anyway. He's in on the joke. 

The Power Structure

Was the real Count Pierre d'Alençon anything like this? I really don't know. There's a surprising lack of info about the real man – who also went by the name Peter II – online. I suppose I could go to a library and look up more detailed info, but I'm not going to, because, like Affleck's Count character, I am a lazy, lazy man. But I think the lack of info about the real Count Pierre is the secret ingredient to Affleck's performance.

It's safe to assume that most people, especially most movie-goers, have absolutely no idea who the hell Count Pierre d'Alençon was. With that in mind, Affleck clearly realized he could have a lot of fun with this character since he wasn't bound by anyone's built-in assumptions. He's also not one of the central figures, which means he doesn't need to carry the plot on his shoulders. He can just show up, pretend to swill booze, and chase maidens around his bed-chamber.

To be clear: Count Pierre is not a sympathetic character. Indeed, when Adam Driver's Le Gris is accused of rape, the Count immediately defends him. And when the duel finally happens, it's Le Gris the Pierre is rooting for. "I am the patriarchy, the power structure, all of these things embodied in this character, and visually, from the way I was dressed, adorned, and the hair," Affleck said of his morally indefensible character. But none of this means we can't enjoy watching Affleck go big and broad, chewing the scenery and leaning into the morally deplorable nature of his intoxicated nobleman.

I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of Affleck's personal life, because that sort of thing never sits right with me. But it's fair to say that Affleck has gone through some things in the last few years, but now appears to be happy and healthy, and I, in turn, am happy for him. He's thriving right now (he has another film on the way this year, "The Tender Bar"), and watching him work in "The Last Duel" is just an absolute joy. Grab yourself an extra Dunkin iced coffee this weekend, Mr. Affleck. You've earned it.