The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
"Wake up! Wake up," says Joan (Milla Jovovich) to spur her troops to battle. But her rallying cry could also be a command to weary audiences after more than two hours of "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc," an ambitious but flawed spectacle.
Director Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita") retells the legend of the 15th century French farm girl who grew up to lead her country in battle against the English, only to find herself declared a witch and burned at the stake. Filled with impressionistic effects and many extreme close-ups, Besson pays tribute to the finest film on this subject, Carl Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928). But the lavish, widescreen look of "The Messenger" owes more to Cecil B. DeMille's "Joan the Woman" (1917).
Overall, the production is impressive but extremely talky. Besson, who co-wrote with Andrew Birkin ("King David"), stretches out Joan's short life (she died at age 19) to a torturous length and gives the actors some very embarrassing dialogue to utter, including fellow fighters with thick French accents who must declare, "She's nuts!" and "I'm fed up with taking her orders!" Then there's Joan's royally appointed sidekick, with his flat, American vernacular (heavy on the "you knows" and "whatevers"). Shaw's "Saint Joan" this ain't.
Nor is it parody, though model/actress Jovovich makes like Xena, Warrior Princess, in some of the action scenes (she's much more believable in repose), and the big-name actors -- John Malkovich as King Charles VII and Faye Dunaway as Yolande D'Aragon, the prototype for the mother of "The Manchurian Candidate" -- camp up their roles shamelessly. By the time Joan is burned, you may feel relief rather than sadness, just because it's all finally over.
*MPAA rating: R, for strong graphic battles, a rape and language.
"The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc"
Milla Jovovich: Joan of Arc
John Malkovich: King Charles VII
Faye Dunaway: Yolande D'Aragon
Dustin Hoffman: Joan's conscience
Pascal Greggory: The Duke of Alencon
A Columbia Pictures and Gaumont presentation. Director Luc Besson. Screenplay Luc Besson and Andrew Birkin. Producer Patrice Ledoux. Director of Photography Thierry Arbogast. Editor Sylvie Landra. Music Eric Serra. Production Designer Hugues Tissandier. Costume Designer Catherine Leterrier. Art Director (Czech Republic) Alain Paroutaud. Set Decorators Alain Pitrel and Robert Le Corre. Sound Designer Vincent Tulli. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.