The Messenger by Luc Besson starring Milla Jovovich (Arrow Recommends)

The Messenger by Luc Besson starring Milla Jovovich (Arrow Recommends)
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"Arrow Recommends is a column that has my sorry ass advise older movies to your royal asses. I will be flexible in terms of genres i.e. I will cover whatever the bleep I want. For now, it will be the way to keep my voice on the site."

PLOT: A young French peasant girl (Milla Jovovich) hears ominous voices, has trippy visions and gets orders from the Big G. above! Or so she thinks. She believes that she has to go to the court of the Dauphin Charles (John Malkovich), to help him save France from the English invasion and crown him King. What’s a lass do but suit up and go whoop that ass for the Lord!

"You, who claim to be my judges, you be careful, for you too one day will be judged." - Joan of Arc

LOWDOWN: Being that it's Easter time, I figured that I would tackle a flick that had some kind of Christian connotation to it. Now we’ve had countless films about Christ with the mucho brutal/graphic THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST being the definitive opus about his crucifixion IMO (I do have a penchant for the bold & controversial THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST as well though); but I wanted to step outside the obvious and pick something a tad novel; and then it dawned on me. JOAN OF F*CKING ARC. 

The real life Joan of Arc (Jeanne D’Arc in her native French), nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans” was a young girl that accomplished quite the impossible at a very young age (18-year-olds) and during a time when women we’re shoved anywhere but on the battlefield.  But this lass who claimed that God communicated with and guided her went on to cut her hair short, dress up as a boy, nab a sword and lead the French army to quite the victory over the English at Orléans. Was God truly with her? Was she insane? Or maybe just a strong willed young girl armed with purpose... who knows? Whatever the case, her story is compelling none of the less.

Now, there have been a lot of French films about her exploits over the years, even Christian Duguay (SCREAMERS) gave her tale a whirl in a 2011 Canadian TV Movie starring Leelee Sobieski. But it is surprising (to this mook anyways) that Luc Besson’s fairly reviled by critics 2011 THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC (WATCH IT HERE) is the sole big budget take on the material. I revisited it recently and here’s what I got out of it.

On this round, it struck me how much Joan’s story mirrored the Christ tale. A poor person, guided by DA CREATOR does extraordinary things, gains followers and is then betrayed by the powers that be to become a martyr. Talk about parallels! The Big G does work in mysterious ways ;) And I definitely mucho esteemed THE MESSENGERS horror-ish penchant when it came to the manner it conveyed Joan’s voices/visions. Wild camera movement, eerie (and at times spooky) imagery (that mean looking JC made for a chilling sight) and surrealism galore. Now that I think of it; the first half hour or so having to do with a Young Joan (superbly played by Jane Valentine) dealing with her supernatural ailments was probably my favorite section of the picture. It really felt like a horror movie but with the All Mighty as the “disturber” and I was loving every second of it.

That’s not to say that the film lost me once grown up Joan kicked in! Besson graced me with all kinds of fly shots, inventive camera angles, exciting/brilliantly staged battle scenes galore and killer gory bits that hit the spot. As opposed to many of the critics that took a dump on this picture; I found the pace to be easy and the chain of events always engaging. The cast on hand was also bang on! Hard to go wrong with the likes of John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman and Besson regular Tchéky Karyo kicking it. They all came in and elevated the affair. But what about the lead you may ask? How did Milla fare as Joan? Well, I was half and half on her showcase.  On one end the camera loved Milla and her wild eyed, intense and manic performance was incredibly convincing. I bought it! But on the flip-side – she came off as a bit too nuts for me hence by default lessening her likeability factor.

If Besson would have said to Milla on set “Bring it down 5 notches baby girl”; it would have worked better for me, but he didn’t… obviously. Maybe that was Besson’s intent, to have Joan come off as a zealot or/and a spastic fruit cake – if so, I respect his choice but I had random difficulties in rooting for her 100%. I had watched Leelee Sobieski's a tad too wholesome take on the character in Duguay’s film days before and it was a polar opposite rendition to the Joan found here. I would have wanted one that hit the middle ground in terms of the sane to insane barometer. But hey, the f*ck I know right? My last qualm was that the chain of events felt rushed at times and the musical score wasn’t rousing enough when it was backing up the action scenes. Way too light and dare I say a tad goofy. 

Besson came under a lot of heat for taking so many liberties in terms of Joan’s story (no her sister's corpse was never raped by an English man) but I didn’t mind it. He gored it up in the name of entertainment – nothing wrong with that – and coupled with the excellent production values, the film's knack of asking lots of questions but letting us answer them and Besson’ wild visual style, THE MESSENGER was worth my time. With that stabbed, the true story of Joan of Arc is fascinating on its own, and it deserves the big bucks screen treatment and I for one would love to see somebody else take a crack at it. You hear me Mel Gibson!? 



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