The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc Reviews
A pretty bad telling of the Joan of Arc story, for so many reasons. Most noticeably, the performances are almost universally hammy. Milla Jovovic only got the part of Joan because she was married to director Luc Besson at the time, and looked the part. Her acting is all over the place.
John Malkovich is okay in his role. Dustin Hoffman can't act badly, but here he gets a character that makes for some of the weirder, more pretentious moments of the movie.
Supporting cast largely overact: French soldiers are generally gung ho, laugh-in-the-face-of-danger heroes, English are brutal, one-dimensional villains. With such bad acting on such a wide scale one can only think that this is how Luc Besson wanted them to act.
On that note, a very irritating aspect of the movie is how the French are portrayed as wonderful heroes and the English as mindless thugs. The whole movie amounted to nothing more than pro-French, anti-English propaganda. I know the director is French, but I didn't know the English and French were currently at war...
Quite a lot of padding too, drawing out the movie. So many scenes that seemed unnecessary.
About the only positive parts are the battle scenes. These are well staged and are quite gritty and realistic.
Joan of Arc is a notorious female icon whose legacy has been emulated by many filmmakers. However, I have seen or read no prior depictions of her life story which were not mere pop culture parodies and so Luc Besson's version of the tale is the first feature length Joan of Arc narative. Luc Besson lacks a track record for maintaining narratives which have fidelity to real history or genuine sensible thought, yet at the same time he has a real talent for crafting films with strong female characters. The question of which of these paths he will take in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is answered within a short matter of time.
The first sign that The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is going to be bad occurs within few seconds of the introduction. This is the intro credits covering the contextual French history surrounding For one thing this is a lot of context to cover in meagre seconds, but more importantly the text is determined to look so definitive of the era in which the tale is set that it ends up being all fancy. Fancy to the extent that it is actually very difficult to read, particularly within the few amount of seconds given to the viewers. This suggests that Luc Besson does not have a strong sense of how to communicate with his audience, but what he proves is that he is even lesser in sensing what story he is actually telling.
As the title suggests, the film is about Joan of Arc. But you wouldn't figure that out from actually watching the movie. It's far more about trying to bridge Besson's Cinema Du Look style into an attempt to capitalize on the success he just experienced collaborating with Milla Jovovich on The Fifth Element. The problem is that cinema du look films are distinct for essentially being about nothing, yet a film about Joan of Arc has to be about something. That something has to be, you guessed it, Joan of Arc. Luc Besson seems so divorced from that concept so I can't understand why he attempted to undertake something so far from what he is genuinely good at. The narrative starts out poor and eventually reduces itself to nothing more than a repetitively structured series of melodramatic conversations with battle scenes between them, so distant from anything that Joan of Arc actually represents in any way shape or form that even viewers like me who have no idea what she means can be certain that neither does Luc Besson. The spectacle is still there because the scenery and production design is captured with atmospheric cinematography and a slightly grim colour scheme, making it a treat on the eyes. But it is no treat on the mind, rather an insult to the intelligence of viewers and particularly those who find Joan of Arc's story to be inspiring. Few will gather that feeling from The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc as its genuine appearance clashes with a feeling of bluntly artificial storytelling which cannot even be saved by the rich musical score.
The success of the film is very much determined based on how well the film characterizes the titular character Joan of Arc. And of course, it is important to consider the role that the lead actress plays in achieving this. Prior to The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Milla Jovovich received international recognition for her collaboration with director Luc Besson on the science fiction blockbuster The Fifth Element. To make the leap from something so lighthearted and ridiculously silly to something significantly more legitimate and historically relevant to the extent of someone as notorious as Joan of Arc is a ridiculous bridge for both to be crossing. And neither of them successfully make it, yet Milla Jovovich is plagued with a more visually notorious failure in this regard. It's already enough that the film characterizes Joan of Arc as a PTSD suffering schizophrenic, but Milla Jovovich is achingly miscast. She seems to oscillate between portraying the humane vulnerability of the character with hints of her larger-than-life status without ever sitting on one or portraying either convincingly. When Milla Jovovich first enters the screen, she could not feel any more vulnerable. For a woman considered a symbol of strength, I felt nothing but a weak performance in an attempt to capture a weak-willed person. Her face seems confused as to what's going on, the same way viewers are. It's as if she can't comprehend the film any better than we can. So we can empathize with her in that sense, but a person this befuddled does not need to be in any film, let alone the starring role of a film about Joan of Arc. In comparison to her effort in The Fifth Element, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc serves solely to solidify that Milla Jovovich should limit herself to gimmicky role more fitting of the extent that she can act. Her voice pierces when she attempts to take command of the characters around her which conveys no strength, and the lack of tenacity in her just means she loses sight of what she's doing.
Even an actor I respect as much as John Malkovich cannot save The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. He is the best actor in the film, yet it is hardly anything to be proud of based on the standard. He captures some kind of mix between comedic antagonism and genuine egotism, minimal in genuine drama but not bereft of his own natural charms. John Malkovich's natural attitude has certain appeal in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc simply because he is John Malkovich, but the credibility of the story does not pay him any favours and he can only boost it ever so slightly.
Faye Dunaway is nice to see and she has some brief moments of dramatic flair, but she has minimal character to her. And why Dustin Hoffman has anything to do with this production is beyond me as he is worth far more than the brief cameo Luc Besson sticks him with. His character doesn't have any relevance and his screen time is too small for anyone to appreciate his existence, so there is nothing there for him.
So The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc certainly boasts a sense of style, but its pretentious lack of narrative in a film which should actually have one proves that Luc Besson is no better at respecting viewers than Milla Jovovich is at being a lead actress.