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The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

Starring: Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich
Director: Luc Besson
Rated: R
RunTime: 145 Minutes
Release Date: November 1999
Genres: Action, Drama


*Also starring: Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, Pascal Greggory, Vincent Cassel, Tcheky Karyo, Richard Ridings, Desmond Harrington, Timothy West



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1.  Greg King review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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4.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Greg King
2½ stars out of 4

Joan of Arc was the illiterate peasant girl who, in the 15th century, believed that God told her how to defeat the all-conquering English army and restore Charles II to the throne. She united the dishevelled French army and routed the English at the siege of Orleans. But later she was denounced as a witch and burnt at the stake. Some five hundred years later she was canonised by the Vatican, although her life is still the subject of much speculation and controversy.

It's a story that has been told on screen many times before, most recently in the earnest television miniseries, starring Leelee Sobieski and Peter O'Toole. However French director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional, etc) gives this familiar story a suitably epic treatment in this bold and bloody retelling of the legend. Besson has spared little expense in bringing the story to the screen. The costumes, the lavish production design, and the authentic looking Czech locations all bring the era to life beautifully. Thierry Arbogast's cinematography is also superb.

Although visually quite splendid, the initial sequences, which deal with Joan's early visions, are a little clumsily handled. However, Besson soon comes into his own with his assured direction of the film's bloody and brutal battle sequences. With Braveheart, Mel Gibson established a new standard for medieval battle scenes. Besson enthusiastically follows that example with his spectacular centre piece, the bloody siege of Orleans, which occupies much of the film's 150 minutes. Besson efficiently captures the carnage and confusion of battle, and he takes his cameras right into the thick of the confusion.

But he also explores in some detail the fascinating politics of church and state that ultimately decided Joan's fate. Having decided that she had outlived her usefulness, they both conspired to rid themselves of the troublesome and charismatic Joan.

Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, etc) is superb as the complex Joan, and she handles both the physical elements and the more cerebral and emotional elements of the role effectively. She is especially good in portraying the difficulty Joan had in reconciling her bloody actions as a fierce warrior with her deep religious convictions. Faye Dunaway is also great as Charles II's scheming mother-in-law, who was also obviously the power behind the French throne. Dustin Hoffman makes the most of a small role as Joan's conscience, while John Malkovich makes a nicely pragmatic Charles II.

Andrew Birkin's script often smacks of trite American cliches and rather 20th century sounding dialogue. While this may offend the purists, it is nonetheless a wonderfully effective way of bringing this 500 year old legend alive and making Joan's struggle seem relevant for contemporary audiences.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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