Take a Drink: for visions
Take a Drink: for English monstrousness
Take a Drink: whenever Joan does something straight past the autism spectrum
Take a Drink: for fire
Take a Drink: for illiteracy
Do a Shot: for betrayal
Do a Shot: for misguided attempts at humor
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
I just returned from one of my vacations that are pretty much my sole raison d’etre regarding my vagabonding English-teaching lifestyle.
Verily, the stuff of Kerouac
My most recent trip was to Northern France inspiring me to watching Saving Private Ryan and wish there was a kickass William the Conqueror move already. I also watched two very different portrayals of the Joan of Arc story, whose place of execution I saw in Rouen. The Messenger is… the second best one.
Directed by bombastic Frenchman Luc Besson with the budget and actors a Hollywood budget affords, The Messenger is a fairly straightforward account of the famous historical tale of the young girl who claimed that God told her to free her country, inspiring France to drive off its English invaders, only to be betrayed and burned at the stake, in the end a sainted martyr for her cause.
However, much like Lucy, Besson takes that seemingly straightforward premise and injects trippy imagery and atypical genre conventions and techniques to create something unique.
Let’s call it Tarantino-lite.
In The Messenger, Besson is after some heady themes. Was Joan of Arc touched by God, or was she just a poor schizophrenic? Were her indisputably great accomplishments a result of great faith and divine will, or a combination of insanity and good fortune? To introduce doubt into the common saintly, almost fairytale portrayal of Joan, he relies on horror movie conventions, a fine, unnerving score from Eric Serra, and a some just not quite right visuals to portray Joan’s inner turmoil.
This really gets interesting, though, when Dustin Hoffman shows up as the personification of her voice. Is this smooth-voiced, philosophical stranger God? The Devil? The hallucination of a traumatized or mentally ill person? A dark passenger?
Hey, look who supports this thesis!
Besides the inventively disturbing visions, Besson and DP Thierry Arbogast deliver a beautifully shot film, with some impressively gory and heavily detailed medieval battle scenes. In support, Faye Dunaway is a great vampy mother-in-law to John Malkovich’s Dauphin and future King of France, who… is John Malkovich. That’s all you really need to say to praise a John Malkovich performance.
Unfortunately, Besson doesn’t balance out these conflicting explanations for Joan’s behavior as much as he’d like to, which is half his direction’s fault and half Milla Jovovich’s performance. Sure, it’s nice seeing her actually not, but she’s so damn batshit and over-the-top during her random yelling episodes that any nuance that she and Besson are going for is obliterated. The Messenger’s Joan of Arc is a crazy person.
Saint, or… okay, yeah, Schizophrenic.
As always with Luc Besson, there’s some weird tonal issues whenever he tries to add a laugh, like the quease-inducing virginity-checking scene or that time the guy ropes a fresh corpse, turns to his buddies and tells them it’s their turn, and they exchange “Who, us?” looks… you know, that kind of thing.
The Messenger takes a different tack from any Joan of Arc film you’ve seen before, and manages some truly creepy and thought-provoking moments, but is betrayed by a lack of the very nuance it’s clearly trying for.