The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc

on November 12, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
   "The Messenger" has all the makings of a historical epic: lush cinematography, elaborate sets, a sweeping score, A-list cameos and a brutal running time. This particular historical epic depends on the charisma of a single character--a character who defied the circumstances of her birth and the traditions of her culture to liberate France from England's stranglehold. A character too important and complex for model-cum-actress Milla Jovovich.
   "The Story of Joan of Arc" depends on Joan's ability to convince her Dauphin (John Malkovich) that she's the warrior destined to reclaim the city of Rheims from the English so that he can officially be crowned King. At this Jovovich succeeds, adeptly adopting a quivering lip as she approaches him for the first time as a shy peasant girl. Once she's achieved his confidence, however, her performance becomes wildly erratic, vacillating between tremulous indecision and fearless confidence, often coming off as a maniacal, bug-eyed crazy person who exhibits none of the qualities that would inspire her army, let alone an entire nation.
   Apart from this glaring error in casting, Besson has peppered his mostly European cast with Hollywood heavyweights who bring gravity to their critical roles. Malkovich is funny and charming as a king uncomfortable with his newfound power. Faye Dunaway, playing the Dauphin's mother-in-law, exhibits strength and presence of mind when he doesn't. And as The Conscience, Dustin Hoffman's penetrating baritone resonates to one's very core.
   Other elements are equally successful here. Hugues Tissandier's production designs are alternately luxurious and destitute. Besson and cinematographer Thierry Arbogast have effectively captured the sweeping beauty of the French countryside and the glorious visions seen only by Joan. Besson's battle sequences are graphic and immediate--probably because he insisted on filming them himself from within the carnage--driving home the horrors that the virgin warrior became a witness to. But without an adequate protagonist, "The Messenger" fails to deliver. Starring Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway and Dustin Hoffman. Directed by Luc Besson. Written by Andrew Birkin and Luc Besson. Produced by Patrice Ledoux. A Columbia release. Historical drama. Rated R for war violence, rape and language. Running time: 141 min
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