Apr 13, 2014

Review: Joan of Arc (1999)

Joan of Arc or otherwise known as The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is a biopic on the famous martyr Joan of Arc. It's produced by the French film studio Gaumont but clearly made for North American tastes. So usually that means that we get everything in English but with French accents. In Joan of Arc though, this isn't always the case, namely Milla Jovovich who plays Joan doesn't put on any accent but I think that would have been impossible anyhow.

At the very least, there is a good lineup of French actors backing up Milla who bring some credibility. An inexplicable casting decision though is John Malkovich as Charles VII of France. He seems to have a thing with playing Frenchmen because he was also Paul Sauvage in Johnny English. I like Malkovich a whole bunch but frankly it's weird having him as the Dauphin, soon to be king of France speaking in English with at times totally modern dialogue. That's the thing about the dialogue in Joan of Arc,  it's extremely uneven because some characters speak in an older English and others speak in modern English. It makes for a really bizarre feel.

The soundtrack composed by Eric Serra also lends to the bizarre feel with some injections of electronic and rock music. I like the effect his music had overall, especially with some of the more dramatic moments in battle scenes and during Joan's visions. These vision scenes are actually pretty creepy at times.

The story seems to be for the most part historically accurate. There's nothing glaring that sticks out to me but I'm no historian. The costumes are really impressive as is the mise en scène. The sets are grand and the battle scenes are well staged. The battle at the Tourelles is particularly good to watch.

In terms of Milla Jovovich's performance, it's without a doubt a very heavy performance that I can see a lot of effort went into but the results aren't very positive. For the most part, she's either always on the verge of crying or she's screeching and raging. I think that another actress could have done a better job but I don't necessarily agree with her performance being nominated for a Razzie. It's interesting to note that she was married to director Luc Besson at the time but only for 2 years. They got divorced the same year that Joan of Arc got released.

One thing I liked is that the story does a god job at showing the differing reactions to Joan of Arc. A lot of the French military leaders are skeptical of her methods but soldiers and commoners all revere her. The English themselves think she's a joke but are in fact wary at the same time. Even Joan goes through a lot of questioning of herself and it's an interesting debate as a viewer. Is she really a messenger or is she just a looney?

Joan of Arc is well done on the whole but certain elements stick out as subpar. The dialogue changes are grating and the final act of the movie is disappointing. It's worth a watch though for its design and battle scenes.