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

Directed by Luc Besson
Written by Andrew Birkin & Luc Besson
Starring Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, Pascal Greggory

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

Joan (Jovovich) is a woman with issues.  Not only did she witness the brutal rape and murder of her sister at the hands of those brutal English types, but she believes that God speaks directly to her, using a lot of wind and a very large bell.  God basically says to Joan: kick English ass.  So she goes to the Dauphin of France (Malkovich) and convinces him to give her an army, some armor, and a new haircut.  She then commences to kick ass in her God's name.  Chosen by God or chosen by psychosis?  You must decide, grasshopper.

This is a clunky, overlong mess.  It's also a painful disappointment since I've always been fond of Besson's work.  But the bottom line is that I know less about Joan of Arc now than I did going into the film.  Not to mention that Jovovich's constant line: "I'm just the messenger" brings back painful memories of Amy Irving's line in the Anastasia TV movie: "I don't know…"  The pain, the pain.  Malkovich and Dunaway are giving what are essentially drawn out cameos, with little for them to do.  Hoffman (who plays God? Joan's Conscience? Groucho Marx? You must decide) has the role that made the least sense to me, yet he was the best part of the film.  This truly is indicative of something being very very wrong.

Jovovich's interp of the character goes from shivering, wet-eyed lost soul to screaming banshee with a sword—no middle ground.  Never during the entire ordeal is there any question whether she's divinely inspired or not—what I gathered regarding Besson's idea of the saint is that she's a fricking nutcase who is obsessed with revenge on the dogs who killed her kin.  Also, Besson's idea of taste is definitely in question, since the rape scene at the beginning is just way too much.  This, coupled with the odd beheading and dismemberment shows that subtlety in cinema is not dead, it just is in a coma somewhere, trapped inside of Bud Cort. 

It's not all lost, as the French soldiers who serve as Joan's lieutenants are quite good, especially the large Richard Ridings as La Hire and Vincent Cassel as the mace-wielding Gilles de Rais.  Unfortunately, most of their characters are relegated to standing around and looking dumbfounded at the development of the plot—I'm sorry, I meant to say Joan's antics when it comes to the aforementioned ass kicking.

All in all, it's a film that has its moments, but they're best seen one night when there's nothing else on.  While I always enjoy interpretations of historical figures, there is a difference between interesting and incomprehensible.

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