At The Movies: Respect hits all the right notes; Lengthy The Last Duel is watchable but lacks period detail

Still from the film Respect starring Jennifer Hudson (left) and Forest Whitaker. PHOTO: UIP

Respect (PG13)

145 minutes, opens on Thursday (Oct 14), 4 stars

Singer and pianist Aretha Franklin already possessed a show-stopping voice as a child. As this authorised biography shows, that talent might have made her a sensation in her town or on the regional gospel circuit.

However, to become The Queen Of Soul - a title she would earn after a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s - she had to become clay in the hands of the men in her life. They would mould her career and image. The same men - her father, romantic partners and managers - would also crush her spirit.

The biopic opens in 1952. Aretha - only 10 and already a musical prodigy - is beloved by her family, but in the grip of her domineering father, pastor C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker).

That relationship, at once nurturing and smothering, establishes a pattern that would repeat itself over the life of the musician, played as an adult by singer and actress Jennifer Hudson.

Highlights of Franklin's career are shown, such as her move from jazz to soul, and her introduction to the legendary Muscle Shoals musicians. The session players created a groove that defined her sound for years to come, starting with her first hit, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, released in 1967.

At over two hours in length, this is an untidy, often melodramatic movie about a long event-filled life - one that moved in sync with the upheavals of the civil rights movement.

Franklin died in 2018 at age 76, with this biography being one of her final projects. The film's title, taken from one of her biggest hits, serves as a convenient unifying theme, but it is too vague an idea to deliver anything with insight.

The best thing about authorised musician biopics is the performance rights. Hudson puts those rights to work in several concert scenes, all spine-tinglingly powerful.

Thankfully, she does not try to copy Franklin's timbre or note choices, instead performing the standards - such as A Natural Woman, Amazing Grace and the title song - in her own electrifying style.

The Last Duel (R21)

153 minutes, opens on Thursday (Oct 14), 3 stars

Still from the film The Last Duel starring Jodie Comer, Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Ben Affleck. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

Why is this historical drama from legendary film-maker Ridley Scott 21/2 hours long? The short answer: It tells the same story thrice.

The long answer: It examines the slippery nature of truth, as well as the toxic effects of male honour in the aristocratic class, by splitting the narrative between three storytellers.

Co-screenwriters and famously close pals Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (working with a third writer, Nicole Holofcener) think they have put forward something bold here, when they have not. Their banal conclusion, presented as insight, involves three persons entering into the same exchange and coming away with different experiences.

The exchange in question is the quarrel detailed in the 2004 book of historical research, The Last Duel: A True Story Of Trial By Combat In Medieval France by Eric Jager.

Damon is Jean de Carrouges, an impoverished blueblood who turns his talent for slaughter into a well-paying job by campaigning on behalf of his paymaster, the king of France. English actress Jodie Comer is his wife Marguerite.

Adam Driver is Jacques Le Gris, a libertine and a minor member of the nobility who begins the story as Carrouges' friend, but ends as his nemesis in a fight to the death. As stated in law at the time, the person lying dead must be the guilty party, as God's hand would shield the righteous man.

The film's unnecessary he-said-she-said structure aside, Scott has delivered a watchable and - despite its length - a snappily edited story that never gets bogged down in 14th-century period detail.

If anything, its characters, in their attitudes and behaviour, feel too modern. Scott's focus on driving the story forward means there is little here to establish a proper Middle Ages mood.

A dank dungeon or two, a blood-letting scene or a leech cure would have been welcome.

The Deep House (NC16)

85 minutes, opens on Thursday (Oct 14), not reviewed

Still from the film The Deep House starring Camille Rowe (right) and James Jagger. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

This work of horror is made in France, but features two English-speaking main characters. Two YouTubers (played by British actor James Jagger and French-American actress Camille Rowe) find a lake in France containing a drowned house and decide to scuba-dive in it for the clicks.

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