There are a few definitions in popular culture of a sell-out. One definition refers to an artist producing a work purely for the sake of financial rewards. In The Messenger: The Story Joan of Arc (Columbia Pictures), the term sell-out definitely can be applied.
The creative team behind the film, including director Luc Besson, has taken a widely known and respected story and infused it with modern dialogue and bits of humor in an obvious attempt to make a lucrative product. Instead of creating a blockbuster, Besson and crew end up with a ridiculous mish-mash of pointless images, undeveloped characters and obscene amounts of overacting.
The most horrific element in the flick (this shouldn’t be considered a small achievement, considering how bad the rest of it is) is the title character herself, played by Milla Jovovich (He Got Game). Jovovich plays Joan as a woman who has two possible emotions. The audience quickly figures out which of these two moods Joan is in by her facial expressions. If Jovovich’s face is clean, trembling, with tears running down her cheeks, then she is facing some sort of trauma. When her face is blood streaked, she is the screaming, wide-eyed banshee woman of the battlefield, determined to defeat the English for her native France.
Jovovich turns the valiant Joan of Arc into an annoying character. It is hard to believe that anyone would want to cast Jovovich as the lead in any serious film, but it is even harder to imagine her as a decent Joan of Arc. It is easy to think of at least half a dozen actresses that would have fit the role better.
The Messenger also does a fantastic job of wasting absolutely wonderful acting talent. John Malkovich (Being John Malkovich) as Charles VII, Faye Dunaway (The Towering Inferno) as Yolande D’Aragon and Dustin Hoffman (Primary Colors) as Joan’s conscience give unintentionally hysterical performances. Hoffman is definitely the worst off, playing a character that is not in the original legend. Hoffman instructs Joan to do the right thing at some points and immoral things at other moments. Except for Jovovich, who has given no one reason to believe she is a competent actress, you feel bad for the rest of the actors in The Messenger, stuck with a horrible script and no direction.
Joan is surrounded by a motley group of soldiers, played by no-name actors. Covered with dirt and grime, all having identical haircuts, it is particularly hard to tell many of these men apart, especially with a weak script that does nothing to distinguish them from each other. As a result, you don’t care when any one of them dies in battle. The phrases fed up, you’re nuts and don’t even start with me are actually uttered by some of these characters. Given that the film is supposed to take place in 1431, the authenticity of these characters is dubious.
Finally, the film gives off a pompous sense of importance. The filmmakers and scriptwriters appear to be under the impression that since they’re dealing with a subject that deserves respect, their film automatically should receive some. It doesn’t happen.
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is playing in theaters.