The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc was supposed to Luc Besson’s epic follow-up to his smash hit success, The Fifth Element, but everything went wrong. Besson was not even supposed to direct the film, initially he was just an executive producer for Kathryn Bigelow, who had been developing a Joan of Arc film project for years. It became apparent just eight weeks before production was set to start that Bigelow wasn’t willing to cast Besson’s new wife Milla Jovovich as Joan. He essentially stole all her research and threw together a frankly crap script to make his own version. By the time the film came out, Besson and Jovovich were already divorced—those funny old Hollywood marriages!
The good parts of the film are mainly some of the production design, the battle sequences and Milla Jovovich as yet another in the long line of solid cinematic Joans. She was 23 when they shot it, not that far off the age Joan was when burned at the stake, which was 19. The ages of cinematic Joans have varied, arguably the best and definitive portrayal was by Renée Jeanne Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, at the age of 35, while the 17-year-old Jean Seberg was probably the most age-accurate in Saint Joan. Florence Delay, who starred in Robert Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc, was 20-21 when the film was shot, so held a nice middle ground between Seberg and Jovovich.
The rest of the film is one hot mess, with dreadful acting from everybody—with John Malkovich’s performance as Charles VII of France being particularly egregious. Faye Dunaway is equally awful as Yolande of Aragon, and just seems so out of place. Dustin Hoffman, who usually good even in bad movies, plays this strange character who is presumedly a figment of Joan’s visions known simply as “The Conscience.” Screenwriter Andrew Birkin (Jane’s brother) has one of the main roles, which probably means he was cast simply to work on the script on the set. Vincent Cassel is fine, but doesn’t have much to do.
The film is basically just interested in Joan’s conquests while leading the French army. Although utterly remarkable, that is kind of the least most interesting part of her story. Besson depicts Joan as crazy, which although it is quite possible, is a really simplistic take on what she accomplished, what was done to her and the spiritual visions she claimed to have. The trial is completely rushed, which is a shame because that’s by far the most interesting aspect—hence why two masterpieces have been made from that record, which exists, amazingly. It’s a big dumb epic that is neither as disastrous as its reputation suggests nor some lost gem that deserves serious re-evaluation, like Oliver Stone’s Alexander.
Much like The Fifth Element Blu-Ray also out this week, it has no extras of any kind, but unlike The Fifth Element disc, that’s consistent with previous releases on Blu-Ray. The DVD that Columbia TriStar brought out two decades ago had the 24-minute HBO First Look: The Messenger – The Search for the Real Joan of Arc featurette.