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The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

Starring: Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich
Director: Luc Besson
Rated: R
RunTime: 145 Minutes
Release Date: November 1999
Genres: Action, Drama

*Also starring: Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, Pascal Greggory, Vincent Cassel, Tcheky Karyo, Richard Ridings, Desmond Harrington, Timothy West

Review by John Beachem
2 stars out of 4

Luc Besson, possibly best known to American audiences for "The Fifth Element", has an extraordinary visual imagination. While most audience members didn't seem to care for the plot of his last film, it can hardly be denied that "The Fifth Element" looked absolutely gorgeous. Here in "The Messenger" we get more of these amazing visuals, but the story seems to be struggling to keep up.

Most know the story of Joan of Arc, but I will attempt a brief summary here. Joan (Milla Jovovich) is a young French girl who witnessed horrors when her village was destroyed by the invading English. Since then she has believed herself a messenger of god, capable of freeing France from the English. The interesting thing is, the people of France believe in her. In order to drive the English out, she requires an army. She begs the dauphin, Charles VII (John Malkovich) for one. At the head of this force, she begins an assult upon the English held city of Rheims. Successful, the French drive the English out and begin talks for peace. As Joan is unwilling to talk, Charles turns her over to the English to stand trial.

This film can be divided easily into three parts. The first, and possibly worst, involves Joan as a young girl discovering who she is (or believes she is, depending on your point of view). During this, we are treated to grotesque scenes such as her sister being murdered and then raped (note the order of these events) by English troops. This third of the film is either quite dull or disgusting at all times. It only begins to pick up the pace once John Malkovich appears on screen. Even with a character as underwritten as that of King Charles, Malkovich is a delight to watch.

The second segment of the movie is by far the most interesting, featuring Joan's retaking of Rheims. It should be noted here, that Milla Jovovich turns in a fine performance as a woman who appears insane at times and enlightened at others.Perhaps what makes this portion of the film so interesting is the presence of several supporting characters in Joan's army. In particular, Richard Ridings (perhaps best known for a brief role in Highlander: The Series) is hilarious as her oafish protector, La Hire. The battle sequences themselves are intriguingly shot in a quick cutting fashion which conveys the chaos of the battles, while still showing how the supporting characters fare.

The final sequence, while not nearly as interesting as the second is still rather interesting, particularly due to the inclusion of Dustin Hoffman as Joan's conscience. This segment focuses upon Charles's betrayl of Joan to the English, and her trial at the hands of the English church. Joan's conscience follows her about as she restlessly paces her cell, and makes everyone question whether she truly is who she claims to be, or merely a lunatic. Some of these scenes are truly hilarious, particularly one in which Hoffman offers possible reasons for why Joan would find a sword lying in a field. Despite this, the trial itself is quite dull, particularly since we all know how it is going to end.

Perhaps the largest problem with this film, is the excessively lengthy runtime of 140 minutes. The film simply runs out of steam after 100, and the first 45 or so seem utterly wasted. I can't quite recommend "The Messenger" in theatres, but I would recommend you attempt to catch it on video if only for the amazing visuals and the performances by Jovovich, Malkovich and Hoffman. I give "The Messenger" three stars.

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* * * * * - One of the greatest movies ever made, see it now. * * * * - Great flick. Try and catch this one. * * * - Okay movie, hits and misses. * * - Pretty bad. See it if you've got nothing better to do. * - One of the worst movies ever. See it only if you enjoy pain.

Copyright 2000 John Beachem

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