By Fred Harvey
The History Place
This is an action packed, special effects-filled
look at the life of mysterious Joan of Arc, featuring lots of realistic
battle scenes, and a thundering soundtrack.
The Messenger, written and directed by
Luc Besson and starring Milla Jovovich as Joan, examines the complicated
events surrounding the Hundred Years War in France during the 1400s and
the impact of an unusual 19-year-old woman on the ongoing battles.
Beginning at age 13, Joan hears voices from the
sky and sees strange visions. Besson jazzes up these visionary scenes with
somewhat creepy horror film-style effects. Interesting choice, considering
he might have gone religious as in Song of Bernadette, a classic
holy film made in 1943.
The big question this film raises, and an interesting
one, is just what are these voices and visions? An over active imagination?
The product of a troubled mind? Or perhaps some kind of genuine religious
experience. The gist of these strange messages is that Joan has been chosen
by God to kick out the English and restore France by military force. This
means she needs to dress like a man, become a warrior and lead troops into
battle, an extraordinary challenge for an illiterate peasant girl.
After establishing her credibility with the Dauphin
Charles, played too flamboyantly by John Malkovich, she leads his troops
to victory over the English in two big battles but is appalled by the bloody
carnage in the days when hundreds of men simultaneously hacked away at
each other with big swords.
As a result of Joan's heroic efforts, the Dauphin
Charles is crowned King Charles VII in the city of Rheims which she liberated.
But problems arise as Joan remains steadfast in her determination to oust
the English completely from France, while King Charles has now decided
he wants to cease hostilities.
Still driven by voices and visions, Joan leads
her exhausted troops in an unsuccessful effort to capture Compiegne. She
is captured by French mercenaries, sold to the English and winds up in
a prison cell, accused of heresy.
Here the film takes an unexpected and strange
turn as a hooded figure, played by Dustin Hoffman, and resembling Star
War's Obi-Wan Kenobi, now appears and challenges Joan's belief in herself
and her lifetime of visions. Like Malkovich, Hoffman is somewhat unconvincing
in his role and seems to be smirking a bit at times in an ungenuine manner.
The Messenger is a 'light' historical drama,
heavy on action and effects, but lacking dramatic depth or any new meaning.
However, it is genuinely entertaining if you're in the mood for a little
swordplay and would like to experience Besson's unique take on the legendary
Joan of Arc.
Rated R (for blood spattered battle scenes, language, and a rape scene)