Volume 93, Issue 43

Tuesday, November 16, 1999


Messenger delivers the entire package

Anywhere But Here the place to go

Dutch bio loses votes

Curiosity Shop turn back the clock

Ideal and Plasticine's efforts soft and shapeless

Messenger delivers the entire package

Photo by Jack English
WOW, WHEN THEY SAID "THIS MESSAGE WILL SELF-DESTRUCT," THEY REALLY MENT IT. Milla Jovovich stars as Joan of Arc in the new historical offering The Messenger

By Chris Theijsmeijer
Gazette Staff

Out of all of the recent films devoted to the story of Joan of Arc, this latest version by Luc Besson is by far the best.

Joan of Arc is arguably one of the most interesting female figures in European history. There has been an ongoing debate about whether she really was a messenger of God, or simply crazy. In any case, this 19 year-old peasant girl inspired all of France to defeat the occupying English armies.

Besson's film wonderfully captures both the inspiration and uncertain nature of her story. The audience is carried along with the power of Jeanne's (Joan's real first name) heroic exploits and eventual capture and defeat.

Part of the film's strength stems from the fact it never pretends to be about the liberation of France from England, but rather about Jeanne herself. The drama is augmented by the fact the audience is never allowed to fully believe or disbelieve her. Besson successfully navigates this difficult path by portraying Jeanne as both crazy and inspired – right to the end of the film.

Milla Jovovich is thoroughly believable as the controversial Jeanne. Audiences see her crazed passion while she wages her holy war and yet they also feel her inner conflict as she mourns the deaths she inflicts. John Malkovich also turns in a typically excellent performance as a very timid Charles VII. Dustin Hoffman makes a wonderful appearance as "The Conscience," deftly appearing both sinister and holy in this God/devil role.

At two and a half hours, The Messenger is a bulky film, but it's devoid of any extraneous scenes. Vicious editing throws viewers from scene to scene, inter-cutting dreams and reality and reinforcing the duality of Jeanne's conflict. Wild battle scenes balance quiet moments of revelation and introspection. Her thoughts flash by, aided by stunning images and various effects. The result is a very unique atmosphere which does not compromise the momentum of the story.

While Andrew Birkin turns in a decent performance as Captain Talbot, the script (by Birkin and Besson) does have a few weak points.

There are a couple of over dramatized sequences – one includes the opening text regarding "France's darkest hour" and the theme of "a miracle." The dialogue is also a inappropriate at times – and don't expect any hint of a French accent in the film. Overall though, Besson's creative hand and Jovovich's great performance more than make up for any small faults.

Thanks to Besson's auteur status and his European background, the film is packed with great actors and yet doesn't come across as another star vehicle. Besson also deserves bonus points for rejecting a typical Hollywood ending – the audience is allowed to leave the film with their own interpretation of who Joan of Arc really was.

The Messenger begs comparisons to Braveheart, another inspiring epic about a country rising to challenge it's captors. Each has plenty of authentic medieval battle gore, political betrayal and life affirming scenes, but where Braveheart is romantic and laced with Hollywood triteness, The Messenger is artistic and spiritual.

This is a film rich in both historical perspective and entertainment value, one which should rightfully go down in history as the penultimate Joan of Arc movie.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999