1429. While the war between France and England (the Hundred Years War) appeared settled in 1420, in England’s favour, the death of King Henry V of England reignites it. England occupies large areas of France and appears set to take the whole of it. Into this moment of crisis rides legendary Joan of Arc, a teenage girl who claims to be lead by divine visions.
User Reviews: If you are wondering about Luc Besson’s vaguely heretical "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc", try to imagine a cross between "Excalibur" and "Heaven’s Gate". It looks great but the basic story gets lost in the histrionics and excess.
There really was a very religious young girl who was considered a savior to France during The Hundred Years War. Although things may have eventually sorted themselves out the same way without her. Three years after her birth, the new tactics of the English archers were responsible for arguably the most one-sided battle in military history at Agincourt. The result was credited to Henry V’s piety and he got a great passage in Shakespeare. The French aristocracy was almost wiped out by the battle and the English became solidly entrenched in France. Fourteen years later a new generation of French nobility was beginning to assert itself and it was the English and their French allies who were having leadership problems.
Both countries were Catholic at the time and both claimed that God was on their side, a bit like the football player who thanks God for the victory over another team that apparently God did not favor.
Although there are records of both of Joan’s trials (her Condemnation Trial and her Rehabilitation Trial) both proceedings had their own political agenda and should be taken with a grain of salt. Besson’s film seems to follow the generally accepted version of the story but takes obvious liberties with Joan’s mental condition and visions. There is no way to prove or disprove any of this so it is probably as plausible as any other speculation.
What hurts "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" is that Besson’s best scenes are at the very beginning and set too high a standard for the remainder of the film. Jane Valentine is wonderful as the young Joan and Besson shows that his directing skills with young actors was not confined to Natalie Portman’s performance in "Leon". This early stuff features some of the most interesting scene juxtaposition that you are likely to see in any film. IMHO it gets off to a better start than any film in cinema history. And the sequence where the young Joan is standing on a hill watching as the English burn her village is as visually stunning as anything ever filmed.
But once Milla Jovovich’s grown-up Joan takes over most viewers will find it difficult to stay focused on the story. It’s not miscasting, Jovovich is noted for aggressive and daring performances (see "The Dummy") rather than subtlety and nuance, making her a good fit for the take Besson wanted on Joan’s personality. The problem is that while a viewer could identify with the young Joan, the older Joan is just repellent. Her story should be inspirational and tragic. Instead it is a bunch of comic book battle scenes and comical melodrama.
But it is worth watching for the production design and the beginning sequences.
Then again, what do I know? I’m only a child.