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What happens when you try to put a human face on a legend? You kill the legend, which pretty much sums up the mess that is The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, which creates a history for the legend and then subjects that history to psychological analysis. It may have been a good idea -- let the character wrestle with self-doubt as to whether she really was moved by the Voice of God -- but in execution (literally and figuratively) it fails to move you emotionally.
Right off the bat, Cranky knew the flick was in trouble. We see the young Joan running through the fields near her home in France on a lovely summer's day. Arms thrown out at her sides, the sun beaming down on her face, all you need is Julie Andrews singing "The hills are alive..." and you've got The Sound Of Music. Poor Joan just happens to be out of town while the brutal English are attacking; burning and killing and raping and acting like louts. Not only does Joan survive, she's left with a nasty guilt complex that even multiple daily trips to Church Confession cannot assuage.
A couple of years later, what's left of the French Court is abuzz with the impending arrival of a prophesied virgin warrior from Lyons. the Dauphin, soon to be King (John Malkovich) is a timid, petty man, easily manipulated by his mother in law (Faye Dunaway). A trap is set. A test is passed and Joan is awarded an army to command.
Milla Jovovich, as the adult Joan, screams herself hoarse as she tries to rally the troops. As for the Brits, anyone out there remember how French soldiers were portrayed in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Reverse the roles and that's how it comes off. Besson puts his camera right in the middle of elaborate battle sequences in which we see various limbs hacked and mangled and severed and flying across the screen. All very reminiscent of Python.
Only when Joan is captured and readied for the stake does the movie get interesting. Betrayed by King and his Church, she stands trial at Rowen which is under English control. Alone in her cell, her visions desert her and as her trial begins, she is torn to the quick by the only tormentor that truly knows what is going on inside her head, her Conscience (Dustin Hoffman, looking very much like a Grand Inquisitor). A woman so dependent upon Confession must, in the end, learn to forgive herself.
When you know the end of the movie before you walk in, there should be a dynamite story in the middle to keep you compelled. With one or two exceptions, somehow I don't think the laughter coming out of the audience I sat with was what Luc Besson intended.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Messenger, he would have paid...
midweek rental level. The Messenger is a remarkably unmoving story.
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