Jul 2, 2010

[Movies] The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)Historical dramas tend to be somewhat hit or miss for me. When you think about it, they're sort of like the original remakes - classic tales and stories put to film or whatever. They can either go amazingly accurate in terms of detail or they can choose the more fantastical route in order to generate more ticket sales. Whatever the approach, it's always a tad tricky to determine if such a movie is worth seeing.

I put off seeing this particular one for many reasons. For one, I haven't been very religious since high school and this character always seemed too tied to religion for my comfort. I'm not a big fan of the protagonist either compared to the rest of the male population that happens to be, well, straight. Plus the period tends to put me to sleep when used in a movie unless it involves some element of magic or fantasy or something, such as movies based on popular mythology.

It took the prompting of my partner to finally getting around to giving this movie a chance since (1) I always trust his judgment and (2) I don't mind being proven wrong when it comes to how good or bad a movie might be. It's all part of the movie watching experience after all.

Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII. ...Image via Wikipedia
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is the Luc Besson directed depiction of the life of French heroine and patroness, Saint Joan of Arc.

The movie starts with Joan as a young girl seemingly obsessed with the Church. She goes for mass and confession daily and is either truly touched by the divine or borderline insane given her visions and these voices she claims to hear. She returns home after one such vision-filled afternoon to find her village attacked by English soldiers and bears witness to her sister being killed and her corpse defiled sexually. It's a traumatic experience and she's left to grow up with distant relatives while she admits that she cannot forgive the English even if God will.

Years later, the Dauphin and the supposedly fated next King of France Charles VII (John Malkovich) receives a message that Joan (Milla Jovovich) has once again requested an audience with him. She has been asking him for an army to lead against the English and place him on the throne because of the visions she has claimed to receive. After a bit of a petty deception. Charles is somehow convinced to giver her the army she has been requesting and they move on to assist with the English siege of Orleans. Whether she is truly blessed by the King of Heaven will be proven in this big battle.

The movie takes an interesting approach to her dreams and visions by laying the groundwork to confirm either side. You can believe she does have these visions of the divine given the creatively done scenes scattered throughout the movie. On the flipside, you can also believe she's just one very luck peasant girl given her strong motivations to take the war to the English because of her sister. For the most part the movie goes back and forth between these notions and the viewer is subjected to the same mental puzzle as the knights and soldiers around her.

The armor choices were indeed lovely, as my partner continually pointed out. although the fight scenes were a bit lacking for me. They were effective in their own right and did well enough to hide sloppier moments with fast cuts and deft editing but there were still instances when it felt wrong. The characters were generally interesting and nicely diverse although you're not given enough material to find mental purchase on and thus it becomes difficult to create emotional attachments to them.

The overall plot suffered significant third act issues when they decided to introduce the role of The Conscience, as played by Dustin Hoffman. He's no Jiminy Cricket but instead he seems to be more like a tempting devil trying to cause self-doubt and confusion in Joan's mind. Then again, she never really does feel very well put-together and in that sense you have to give credit to Jovovich for managing to be very different in her characterization of Joan as compared to her other roles.

The movie was generally good but there were certainly many things lacking that took too much away from it. I still enjoyed it for what it was worth, although I can also understand why it did not receive overly positive reviews. The plot does seem confusing during many parts of the story and the decision to use radical cuts as a transitional device a bit too often was rather jarring and felt  like a cheap way to move on.

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc was a decent enough attempt at bringing her story to life although the added insertions and interpretations were probably a bit unnecessary. It gets 3 campy amputations and beheadings out of a possible 5.
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