The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, and some other idiots whose names I can’t remember
Released on October 18, 1999
Running time: 2h 39m
Genre: Action, Medieval, Historical
We all know this story. It is the early 15th century. Half of France has been invaded by England in the Hundred Years War. 17-year-old Jeanne d’Arc receives several visions from God, telling her that she is to lead the French army to victory over the English. She tells Charles VII, Dauphin of France, about this. He allows her to lead the army, and she, over the next two years, leads them to multiple victories. Charles VII betrays her to Burgundy, who turn her over to the English, who try her as a witch and burn her at the stake at Rouen. This drives the French to defeat the English and win the Hundred Years War. Jeanne is made a saint in 1920.
But here’s Luc Besson’s take.
Jeanne (referred to as Joan in the title but addressed in the movie as Jeanne) is an obsessively religious girl to the point of fundamentalism (anti-Christian much, Luc?). She is impatient. Her visions, which start when she is a little child, terrorize her. She is psychologically scarred when the English destroy her village, and a soldier kills her sister and rapes the dead body (ew). She becomes almost like a vigilante during the years between her sister’s murder and her revelation to Charles VII. She’s played by Milla Jovovich, who has two facial expressions: holding her mouth slightly agape (showing her closed teeth), and yelling. She gives a Razzie-nominated performance. She is obviously emotionally impulsive and unstable. She is prone to mood swings. Her military skills suck and are purely impulsive. She is almost bloodthirsty. The only reason she was not immediately declared guilty was because she had a way with words. And, ultimately, she’s so mentally unstable that her mind made up the signs from God. Her own conscience (Dustin Hoffman) manifests itself and makes her convince herself that she’s absolutely crazy, and that she caused all of this out of selfishness, cruelty, and vengeance. Her defense against the courts crumbles, as she blatantly contradicts herself. The Church in England apparently tries to “save” her rather than immediately jump to the conclusion that she was a a witch and a heretic. She signed the form that symbolized her recanting her “lies and heresy”. She was not sexually assaulted in prison. She was justly executed, felt unimaginable fear at her death, and the cross held up before her became a symbol of her fear of her soul being damned. And Luc Besson infers, “As if the Roman Catholic Church actually had a reason for making Jeanne a saint.”
Jeanne d’Arc has been one of my personal heroes for much of my life. Her life story is fascinating. Inspiring. Moving. If you’re a religious guy like me, you believe that Jeanne really had those visions. And if you know your history, you KNOW that she was mentally stable. Her sister was never killed and then raped. She was pious, rather than obsessively religious to the point of fundamentalism. She was patient. She was headstrong. She was humble. She was NOT prone to mood swings. Her visions, which started when she was 17, comforted and instructed, rather than terrorized, her. God is much more decent than stooping to such lows as to terrorize a young child. She hated bloodshed. She, and therefore God, was France’s greatest military genius until Napoleon Bonaparte. She was calm, cool, and calculating. She could make complex decisions under pressure. She was selfless. She was not driven by vengeance. The Church in England did NOT try to save her. In fact, they deliberately fabricated false scenarios, brought in false witnesses, and deceitfully worded their statements in order to trip Jeanne up and incriminate her. But she saw through their act and trapped them in their own lies. She did NOT sign any form recanting her “lies and heresy”. She remained faithful to God and defiant in the face of the English court to the end, despite having been sexually assaulted in prison. The cross was a symbol of hope and faith for her. And she died with dignity. In fact,the only reason she had a cross there at all was by last-minute request at the stake. One villager grabbed a cross from the bishop, and another held up a crude, homemade cross. She died a hero. And the Roman Catholic Church was justified in canonizing Jeanne and making her a saint in 1920.
To see this movie spit on the ashes of one of history and religion’s most important figures, reducing her to a crazy schizophrenic is beyond insulting.
Normally, I do not get angry at a movie for not following its source material. Most of the time, it’s fictional. But this is not fiction! It is documented history! It actually happened! That’s what makes films like Pocahontas, JFK, The Far Horizons, Gladiator, They Died with Their Boots On, Battle of the Bulge, Alexander, Pearl Harbor, Nixon, and U-571 awful. They take HISTORY and butcher it as the means to a very shallow end. If you’re going to base your movie on historical events, you’d better get them right.
Discrediting these visions from God as hallucinations of a broken mind turns this into blatantly anti-Christian smut.
But, apart from its distortion of history, is the movie any good?
Well, I can say this. It’s very well made. It looks fantastic. It’s violence is gory enough to satisfy. It’s special effects are great. It rarely resorts to CGI.
It has style, but it has no substance.
I think I remember four of the side characters that were Jeanne’s fellow soldiers. I’ll give them nicknames.
General Douche Bigelow, Frizzy-Haired Catapult Guy, Pointless Love Interest, and Pottymouth McBeefcake.
Poorly done screenplay, forgettable side characters that are brought up and thrown aside at Jeanne’s betrayal and kidnapping at Paris, a neverending battle of Overacting vs. Underacting (Milla Jovovich vs. John Malkovich), … and the (as of my 69th review, third) worst ending in history. Yes. The ending is worse than The Devil Inside. It is the most rushed burning scene ever.
We suddenly cut from Jeanne confessing her sins to The Conscience to an already well ablaze wood pile. Instead of Jeanne’s death taking an hour, it takes a minute. And the last shot is of the bishop’s cross as if it’s supposed to signify that Jeanne felt unimaginable fear at her death, and that she was justly executed.
But hey. The end has one thing that makes it different. While the other Jeanne d’Arc movies had stake, this one actually has a little bit of steak.
Here’s an idea for you. Go watch the TV miniseries that stars Leelee Sobieski that came out the same year. It is much more true to history. Just…just ignore this absolute travesty. Do not let this movie gain another cent.
God bless you, Jeanne. And I apologize for this tarnishing of your story.
God rest your soul.
Final verdict: 0 out of 5 stars.