If you liked Braveheart, you should like The Messenger. It’s chock full of long, vivid battle scenes, terrible injuries, terrible deeds, and epic cinematography (though, somehow, not as huge as Braveheart). However, if you liked the Fifth Element (also directed by Luc Besson) you will see none of that wacky tongue in cheek comedy here – The Messenger is a very serious film. This is one of its virtues, however. Besson, a French man, is very passionate about his paean to Jeanne d’Arc (though it never explains the of Arc part of her name) and his love for his mother France is very deep. He imbues the film with glory and xenophobia and righteous fire in the name of 15th century warriors who died trying to free his country from the English pigdogs, and it saves The Messenger from being a scene chewing vehicle for his then-wife, Milla Jovovich.
Milla is beautiful, so beautiful you can see why she is the revered virgin of legend and also her charisma to make tough and scratchy soldiers follow her. Jovovich also really sold me on her belief – she is the heart of the film and therefore had I not believed her religious fervor I would have been snoozing through it – but she really digs in and gets down with her revelations and I believe her performance totally. Her passion and Luc’s passion for the project is what made this movie go from a 13th Warrior kind of mish mosh to what was actually a pretty cool (if weirdly cast) small epic.
John Malkovich, as the Dauphin de Steppenwolf (how does he keep getting roles that demand dialect and then Chicagoing his way through them?!?!), has the right feebleness of character and strength of ego to play the rotten Dauphin-cum-King of France – if only he didn’t sound, well, like himself. One amusing moment is when the Dauphin says, “If only I could be someone else,” and of course with Being John Malkovich playing across the hall, this was an added funny bonus. He and, of all people, Dustin Hoffman, lend some American star power to the film but I think they are wildly misplaced. Hoffman’s credit is The Conscience, and it’s an interestingly used concept, but the second he shows up, the film starts to drag drag drag. When he’s gone, we’re caught up in the story again, watching Milla work her onscreen magic and, even knowing the outcome, hoping it will be OK for her in some way at the end. But when Hoffman shows up, it’s Sphere all over again.
Faye Dunaway, looking even more like an alien than normal with her French Renaissance headdress, sleepwalks her way though the film – it’s never clear what we should make of her, and it’s not really all that important, I guess. The central relationship is between God and France and Jeanne and it’s when the movie gets into the nitty gritty with that, it’s at its best. That, and some seriously cool camera work with the battles (watch for a cool catapult section) and the painstaking production design of the battlements and weapons. The reason to see The Messenger is of course the messenger herself, and Milla’s Revlon (Maybelline?) commercials will never quite look the same – Buy InstaCurl ReadyLash Mascara – God wants you to! But she is more than her gibberish-spouting chosen one from Fifth Element – she is a scripture spouting chosen one who really believes in what she is saying. It’s actually quite enjoyable overall.
MPAA Rating R for strong graphic battles, a rape and language.
Release date 11/22/99
Time in minutes 148
Director Luc Besson
Studio Columbia TriStar