Film Scouts Reviews

"The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc"

by Richard Schwartz

Despite some intense battle sequences and an elaborate production design, director Luc Besson's effort to make the definitive "Joan of Arc" epic falls short due to the weakness of the lead actress and a tedious, overly introspective screenplay.

The rather mythical story is hardly different from any of the previous Joan of Arc adaptations. When the peasant Joan (Milla Jovovich) arrives in Orleans claiming a divine revelation, she is greeted with skepticism and derision. But the French troops are reeling and so a desperate Charles VII (an underused John Malkovich), with the encouragement of his sagely mother-in-law (Faye Dunaway), decides to grant Joan an audience and ultimately chooses her to lead an army into battle.

After her inspired regimen wins an unlikely battle in the trenches, few doubt Joan's vision. After another English retreat, the dauphin Charles is crowned and then decides he has little need for Joan. The royalty provides little support for her army and leaves her in the clutches of traitorous Burgundy, where she is jailed. As Joan awaits a trial for heresy, she comes face-to-face with her Conscience (Dustin Hoffman, dressed like an oversized Jawa and chanting Latin phrases while looking very silly and confused), who questions her faith in him. Finally, Joan renounces her past but is still burned at the stake as a witch.

Like all Besson films, "The Messenger" does not skimp on the aesthetics, especially during the first half-hour, which includes an almost hallucinogenic dream sequence best served on the big screen. In addition, the battle scenes, though not worthy of comparison to those found in "Braveheart," are detailed and well choreographed.

But as goes Joan goes "The Messenger." And Jovovich simply does not have the pedigree to pull off this ambitious role and turns in a rather flat performance. A role this substantial requires more than a mere actress - only a Jodie Foster or someone of that caliber could have carried such a substantial load here. That load is ever burdened by a weak screenplay, whose emotional interpretation of the Joan story offers scant political background and provokes little discussion about the validity of Joan's vision.

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