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With: Milla Jovovich, Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, John Malkovich, Tchéky Karyo, Vincent Cassel, Pascal Greggory, Richard Ridings, Desmond Harrington, Timothy West
Written by: Luc Besson, Andrew Birkin
Directed by: Luc Besson
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic battles, a rape and some language
Running Time: 148
Date: 10/18/1999

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

What's at Stake?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element) brings us his take on the ages-old story of Joan of Arc, offering a larger budget and not much else. His Joan of Arc has nothing I haven't seen before; it's one rousing speech followed by a shaky, poorly-shot battle scene, followed by another rousing speech, and so on.

Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element) stars in the title role, and she's the best thing in the movie. She's a fiery and passionate Joan, body quivering and eyes bulging, as if she were already burning at the stake. Unfortunately, it's a spotty performance. Some of her scenes seem overdone. The rest of the famous cast, Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, John Malkovich, and Tcheky Karyo have little to do. And the secondary characters are paper-thin.

The one thing that sets Joan apart is her faith. In Besson's version, Joan is obsessed with confessing at least once a day, several times a day if she can manage. And yet, Hoffman shows up at the end as "Joan's Conscience," making her think twice about the signs she's seen and the voices she's heard. She has to go to the stake unsure of what she's done, which is an even bigger tragedy than dying for her beliefs would have been. To me this negates the entire story.

I was thinking that The Messenger would catch on with audiences like other rousing battle-epics such as Braveheart (1995) and perhaps go on to a Best Picture nomination. But now I'm not so sure. The very basic elements to this kind of movie -- having your breath taken away, feeling an adrenaline rush, and feeling awestruck by the spectacle of it all -- are missing here. They're replaced by boredom and disappointment.

If you are taken by this story, try instead the silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), directed by Carl Dreyer and newly released on DVD instead. Also worth seeing is The Trial of Joan of Arc (1964), directed by Robert Bresson (in French with subtitles).

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