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Release Date: November 13th, 1999


02154001.jpg (5170 bytes)  Joan - Milla Jovovich
02154001.jpg (5170 bytes)  Charles VII - John Malkovich
joan.jpg (23511 bytes)Yolande D'Aragon - Faye Dunaway
joan.jpg (23314 bytes)The Conscience - Dustin Hoffman

Director: Luc Besson

Previews: Girl, Interrupted ($$$ ),  End of Days ($$$), End of The Affair ($) Bicentennial Man ($1/2), Sleepy Hollow ($$$1/2)

I can remember on those days when I was home from school during the summer, waking up and watching the game show, The Price is Right.   I know, it's still on now, but part of growing up, is sacrificing the joys of daytime television. On that show, they have a showcase showdown, where they group large amounts of prizes together for contestants to bid on, the closest on, wins their package. Sometimes, they would have theme showcases, attempting to group prizes together, to make it more enticing.   Inevitably, these theme packages would have three or four lame prizes, and one big one. Example, a "High Rollers" package, that would start with some fuzzy dice, or the casino classics china and plate set, but would end up, with a trip to Vegas, or Atlantic City or something.   My point here, this weekend was a theme movie weekend, with religion being the theme. The prize of this weekend, is definitely Dogma, a lighthearted, but powerful look at these issues and how society deals with and views the church.   I was hoping to follow that up, and get a double showcase, by seeing one of the greatest stories of faith and conviction, in The Messenger.    Instead, it’s time to accept  my Mirage dinner plate, and Caesar’s Palace casserole dish, because I definitely feel cheated by this, and I didn’t get this message.

As I can remember, the story of Joan of Arc is about a young girl, who believes that God gave her a message.  This message was that she was to go to the Dauphin of France, ask for an army, and then reclaim France, for God, from the British.   It was her continued, undying faith, and belief in God’s word, and will that drove her to do these things. Eventually it drove her to be accused of witchcraft, herecy, and ultimately burned at the stake.   She died for her beliefs, and became a saint, a hero, a martyr for the French to rally around.    Okay, history lesson over, put down your books, because the movie is not going to help you understand any of that any more than I just did.   In fact, I probably gave a bit more information than Besson did, and he is a native Frenchman.    He seemed to focus less on what drove Joan and  more on what she did.    She lead the army, captured Orleans, tried to capture Paris, etc., and this is what the majority of the movie shows us.   There are endless fight scenes, ala Braveheart, that are well filmed, mind you, but way too excessive, and take away from the point of the movie.   How can bloodshed, and loss of life, be a part of God’s will.  I obscurely quote A Few Good Men, "never mind, we’ll get back to that in a moment"

joan2.jpg (28793 bytes)   Besides loving game shows, I am also a history buff of sorts.    Hence, historical based movies have a certain appeal to me.   I believe they should be like a history book come to life. They should make the one dimensional words  become multi-dimensional visions and take the "boredom" out of it, for those who do not share my passion.   A historical movie should also make you want to read and learn more about the topic at hand, piquing your interest in gaining more knowledge, too much knowledge is never a bad thing in my eyes. When I saw Elizabeth, the best historical adaptation in recent years, I wanted to know more, read more, learn more about her.  Here, I have no desire to know anymore, not because my thirst for knowledge has   been quenched, but rather, because I do not care.   Joan seems like another religiously driven war monger, lacking little purpose, other than her own self-servient needs, and blaming these, so-called voices.   I just didn’t care about her, and for this movie to succeed, you have to care.  Maybe it's in the performance. I cared, and believed in Cate Blanchett. However while Jovovich showed previously never before seen range in her acting, she could not carry this movie, and that’s what needed to happen to make up for the lack of focus on the story.    If I cared about, or believed in Joan’s passion, then all of the madness that I saw could’ve been a bit more justifiable.

Honestly can only recall a few redeeming qualities about the movie. Hoffman’s performance as her conscience, showed that Besson, for brief moments, had the right idea.   If he had maintained the message, intensity, and focus of these scenes, then the movie would have worked better. Also, the revelation of Joan to the Dauphin (he had an impostor pose, to test her), is pulled off well.    More  failure comes, though, in the casting of Malkovich in this role. It appears he tried to look younger, by getting the haircut of a 6 year old, with a bowl, a pair of scissors and some ambition. This is two strikes for John, a few more, and we may wonder if we would actually want to be in his head at all.

Ultimately, I did not care about the message in The Messenger, and for the movie to work, you must. Besson seems more focused on showing how Joan helped to free France by her fighting, rather than her power of conviction.    Religious wars arise because of a conflict in beliefs, rather than ideas. A quote from the previous movie Dogma, by none other than Chris Rock, sums up my point a bit better. "Belief is bad because it causes divisions and warfare, while ideas are good because they are changeable."   Besson may have had a good idea, in showing his love of his mother country, but he, like most, became caught up in focusing on the results, rather than the cause and message.   The messages here should be, believe in God, and yourself, and all you desire shall be yours.   By only choosing to dedicate less than a third of this movie to that, he loses his message, and his audience's interest, never to be regained. ($1/2 out of $$$$)

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