The Messenger (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Milla as Jeanne d'Arc. 

Milla is the female Keanu. Like Keanu, she can be effective if used properly. I really liked her in The Fifth Element, but Joan of Arc was a role calling for real depth, plus the ability to convincingly step out of 20th century speech and mannerisms. Milla was just not cast wisely, ala Keanu in Dracula. I kept hearing her Valspeak as she summoned the troops, and she has approximately the same commanding voice as the late Margaux Hemingway. Of course, the director was her husband at the time, so that could explain how she got the job. 

That director, Luc Besson, is proving to be a major disappointment. This is not a good movie at all, but especially not from a man who has shown the great talent of Besson's past. He was just a kid when he dazzled the world with "La Femme Nikita" (he actually wrote The Fifth Element when he was in his mid teens!) He's only 40 now, so he has plenty of time to recover, but his great talent is dissipating, and his promise seems to lie unfulfilled. 


None. (I'm not sure whether you can see a nipple)
There's plenty of realism and technique on display here, but what makes Besson think that a film needs about 45 minutes of realistically grisly and chaotic 15th century battles, where we viewers can't tell which side the soldiers belong to, and where we can't find an emotional anchor because we don't know who is who? I hit the FF button constantly. In fact, I probably watched the entire movie in about 30 minutes, because I just forwarded through the battle scenes until the plot stasis dissolved and something else happened.

The movie shifts back in forth in its interpretation of Joan. Was she simply a lunatic? Were her successes just accidents, as some of the military men claimed? Was she ever believed, or did everyone always realize she was loony, but decide to exploit her until she was no longer useful. Milla portrays Joan as blatantly over-the-edge, so convinced that she is God's messenger that she will brook no disagreement with her positions, no matter how minor, since such is disagreement with God.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • HBO "first look" featurette

  • extended international version, with 10 minutes added

In this representation, everyone was glad to be rid of her when the torch was lit. As the viewer you think, as a rational man would have thought at the time, "Maybe she was railroaded on the heresy charges, but thank God I don't have to listen to her any more." I would have lit the fire myself if I could have reached through the screen. The interpretation can't be blamed entirely on Milla. After all, the director let her do it that way, so they must have created it jointly. 

Is it an awful movie on the level with Manos, The Hands of Fate? No, of course not. Besson is not capable of making such a poor film, any more than Spielberg is. But this is just about the worst film a great director could possibly make. The dialogue is pretentious, often laughable. The battle scenes are confusing and go on forever. Milla sounds like she is rallying the crowds at a California shopping mall.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: slightly less than two and a half stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, Apollo 68/100.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 28% positive reviews, only 14% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.3/10, Apollo users 54/100 
  • With their dollars ... it took in $14 million domestic on a $55 million budget, despite a 2100 screen roll-out. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, I say C-. Pretentious, confusing, uninvolving historical epic. Barely watchable, if at all.

Return to the Movie House home page