The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
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The year is 1429. France is in political and religious turmoil as members of the royal family battle for rule. But one peasant girl from a remote village gave her country the miracle it was looking for. Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, Dazed and Confused) is Joan of Arc, a young woman who would inspire and lead her countrymen until her execution at the age of nineteen. Raised in a religious family, Joan witnessed her sister's rape and death at the hands of an invading army. Years later, as the same war raged on, Joan stood before her king with a message she claimed came from God: give her an army, and in God's name she would reclaim his diminished kingdom. But was the message real, or thedelusion of a girl whose life had been shattered? This startling epic drama by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) explores the life of Joan of Arc, her amazing victories, relationship with God, and tragic death. Co-starring John Malkovich and Academy Award(r) winners Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway, THE
1999 may be remembered as the year of Joan of Arc: NBC created a miniseries in her honor, Carl Dreyer's long-lost The Passion of Joan of Arc was discovered in a mental hospital, and Facets re-released Jacques Rivette's Joan the Maid. Luc Besson rounds out the corpus with his stylistic and vaguely heretical grand-scale feature, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.
Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element) challenges established notions about the Maid of Orleans as he creates a decidedly more human heroine than have previous biopics. The story line is the same--a young, illiterate peasant girl convinces the dauphin of France to give her an army, and she leads them to victory in Orleans, only to be burned at the stake for heresy--but Milla Jovovich, in the title role, is a woman possessed. Her influences are less than heavenly; as a child she witnesses the murder of her sister by the English, a death caused by the sister's giving her hiding place to young Joan, which causes an intense desire for revenge. Yes, God still speaks to Joan, but even this is undermined, as Dustin Hoffman, playing The Conscience, questions her motives.
Cinematically, The Messenger is stunning, with fantastical sequences of Joan in communication with higher powers. Yet the graphic violence (scenes include random decapitation and a dog gnawing on a body); the uneven accents, which make it difficult to tell who is fighting on which side; and the rewriting of lore may make this version of Joan of Arc appeal only to Besson fans. Jovovich is convincing, and while at times the film may drag (at times you wish they'd hurry up and burn her), it is a remarkable and insightful retelling of a well-known piece of history. --Jenny Brown
- Extended International Version with an Additional 10 Minutes of Footage
- HBO First Look Featurette: The Messenger: The Search for the Real Joan of Arc
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I enjoyed it both as a historical war film complete with sieges and brutal battles and as a character study of St. Joan. I'm no expert and can't really speak to the historical accuracy of the film but I do want to praise Milla Jovovich's acting. She conveys a woman who is simultaneously driven and committed, with no uncertainty or doubt but who is also completely out of her depth. She's no superhero, she makes mistakes and disregards reality too much, she almost defies reality by strength of will, but can't quite. One great scene opens with a close up on Joan gasping, it pans back to show her holding her banner, standing defiantly before an enemy castle. It's only after a minute that someone comes by to point out she has an arrow in her leg. Joan seems to notice if for the first time...
It has flaws, but a lot of them are due to the filmmaker not wanting to offer us easy answers.
Great performances from John Malkovich and Dustin Hoffman round it out and make it an enjoyable historical epic.
I personally recommend Mark Twain''s book, Joan Of Arc. Joan captivated Twain such that he spent 7 years in France researching Joan's life. The most interesting narratives concerning her trial were taken from the trials transcripts. I don;t believe anyone can truly understand her brilliant, eloquent, defense for her cause and herself in language that seemed to be written for the bible, unless you read his book.You will actually stand up and cheer.
The Messenger is a much better film than The Fifth Element - the photography and scenery is fabulous, and the supporting cast is perfect. Fay Dunaway, John Malkovich, Dustin Hoffman... it's just great.
Perhaps the scene I like best of all the large-scale battles is where Joan takes an arrow, and we look right into her face as she falls 20-30 feet off a ladder, into the arms of the men below. Maybe it's not great acting, but she definitely placed a lot of trust in her cast mates. A lot of horse riding through battles, sword brandishing, serious medieval battle gore... yep, this is a great film.
I think the film's use of Dustin Hoffman as Joan Of Arc's conscience was very well done. I noticed in other reviews, that several people found Hoffman's role to be confusing. I understood clearly what his character represented. He symbolized Joan's conscience, and her process of self examination after being captured.
Also, I think the film's battle scenes were well done. The costume and prop work was nice too. The Hundred Years war saw the dawn of some amazing advancements in armor, battle tactics, and weaponry, and The Messenger did a good job in demonstrating that. Many other films from this era show only a handful of men-at-arms, with the remainder of the armies being lightly armored infantry. Finally a film had a majority of it's fighting men in full armor, the way they actually were during the closing years of the Hundred Years War.
The only flaw that I found was minor and superficial. I found some of the musical pieces to be a little too modern sounding. I do not like it when period films use modern style music. But I only noticed a couple ballads that bothered me. Other than that, I found no problems.
Overall, The Messenger receives four stars. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the history of either The Hundred Years War, or that of Joan Of Arc.