Review: “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc”

The tale of the ‘Maid of Lorraine’ has been told countless times on the screen, with a new version every decade or so for a different generation. This time around however there are three versions of the story available to us within the space of a year: a mini-series which aired a few months ago, a soon to be released cable TV movie and this major feature.

The mini-series was a quite well-written and executed piece of work which clearly explained the story and the characters, and while it did have a ‘sanitised’ Hollywood feel about it – in the end it was both interesting and entertaining. French Director Besson’s feature version however pales in comparison to that and many other films out there.

Those not familiar with the tale will very likely be completely lost, even right at the beginning as the ‘scrolling text’ introduction explaining the setup which brought about the Hundred Years War between England, France & Burgundy rushes past at a speed which caused verbal complaints amongst the theatre crowd. From there comes a 15-minute intro of a little girl dancing around in the grass and witnessing a brutal incident. In fact this is the first sign of things going wrong.

Admirably Besson has taken a different approach to the tale and instead of telling the usual story once again, he’s rather decided to focus on Joan herself at different stages in her life. The trouble is it quickly becomes disjointing as the first half of the movie mostly focuses on a battle for control of Orleans, and then suddenly jumps weeks ahead to the battle for Paris . If you didn’t know Paris was the location of her first major defeat then your likely to be confused by about this point.

Time is taken out for such unneeded things as a ‘virgin testing’ sequence, yet elements like The Dauphin’s eventual betrayal of Joan are barely covered at all. Then the second half of the movie is basically Joan in a jail cell trying to figure out her sanity – at which point the film begins to finally become interesting and then sadly boring again as it carries on way too long with this issue. The burning is almost an afterthought.

Jovovich is a decent actress who you can see worked her ass off in the role of ‘Joan’, but she’s not a very inspirational Joan and rather seems more like a spoiled egotistical brat at times. You can never go wrong with John Malkovich in a supporting role, but he can only do his best with what material he has which is sadly lacking here. Actually the two actors which come out shining from this are relatively new characters added to the legend.

A bald and elaborately head-dressed Dunaway makes a great scolding mother-in-law who is a bit of a bitch but not an entirely clean cut baddie – in fact she is Joan’s greatest supporter in early scenes. Hoffman is also great as an ‘Inquisitor’ who appears in Joan’s visions and finally adds some depth to her character – making her doubt her own rock solid convictions and whether she is a ‘Messenger’ or just a girl who saw what she wanted to see. His second conversation with her in which they argue over the destiny of a sword she found is the real pivotal point in the movie and easily the best scene.

Besson’s talent for visuals ensures a grittier realism than usual in this tale, however while things like the battle at Orleans look spectacular, the battle of Paris and the cheesy 1980’s music video feel of Joan’s visions don’t work well. Combined with a quite weak script, the tale becomes a bit of an overly long mess. If you want to know more about Joan, hire out the mini-series instead – its a much better spin on the tale.