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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Messenger:
The Story of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc secularized and de-sainted for your protection

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 31, 2000 -- The story of Joan of Arc, has been told and retold for nearly 600 years, but never like this. "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc," seems more of an attempt to debunk the myth, rather than retell a remarkable story.

Director Luc Besson (who also co-wrote the screenplay), once again casts his wife, Milla Jovovich, in the title role of the movie, as he did in his last effort, "The Fifth Element." The star-studded cast includes John Malkovich as French King Charles VII, Faye Dunaway as Yolande D'Aragon, a royal family strategist and Dustin Hoffman as Joan's conscience.

The time is 1429, the English have overrun half of France and the kingdom is in disarray. Charles VII has not yet been crowned and a unifying force is needed to win back key territories for the French. Born a peasant in Domrémy (now Domrémy-la-Pucelle), Jeanne d'Arc believes she hears heavenly voices when she is 13 years old. Sometimes she sees visions as well. When she is 19 she convinces Charles VII that if he will give her an army to lead, God will ensure victory for the French. Charles does and she wins a crucial battle for the French and helps unite the nation behind him.

These are historical facts, which are depicted in the movie. The battle scenes are well-staged on a grand scale and Joan's visions are intriguing. Then we come to the part where Joan is betrayed by the newly-crowned king that she helped to put on the throne. It seems she wants to fight on against the English and he does not. She is eventually captured and put to death at the hands of the English.

Joan's inquisition at the hands of members of the Catholic church seems to go on forever in the movie. Here is where Dustin Hoffman's character comes into play. At times he seems to be the devil, at other times, divine, yet at other times, he seems to be Joan's alter-ego, trying to convince her that her intention all along was not to follow the path of God, but to seek vengeance for the brutal killing of her sister at the hands of the English. This psychological analysis goes on for a very long time in the movie. The only trouble with all this is that it just isn't interesting, its boring.

If the movie had stuck to the facts and spent a lot less time speculating on Joan's mental state it would have been more entertaining. Joan's life was certainly interesting enough in its own right. Now wouldn't it have been funny if Besson had chose to film a "conventional" Joan of Arc story: Joan hears voices from God, kicks the English around and then gets burned at the stake for her troubles. Then Besson steps in front of the camera and says, "Now here's what I think really happened. I don't believe in God, so the girl must have been delusional ... " and so on. Then the French could have cut out that part and had themselves an acceptable movie, and Americans would have a good place to get up and get more popcorn or use the restroom, or whatever. Unfortunately, the temptation to indoctrinate the masses was just too great. At any rate, the film would have been an hour shorter.

Jovovich pours her heart into the role of Joan and the rest of the cast is O.K. The battle scenes are the best part of the movie. The last part of the film is an extremely long anticlimax. The first part of the movie, about Joan's first visions and the terrible death of her sister, are disjointed, uneven and graphic in their horror. I wonder what the French think of all this. It is hardly a flattering portrait of their patron saint. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)