The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc A couple of ornately armored soldiers get their heads lopped off in full blood-spurting glory, and there are several startling low-angle shots of Dustin Hoffman's… The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc A couple of ornately armored soldiers get their heads lopped off in full blood-spurting glory, and there are several startling low-angle shots of Dustin Hoffman's… R PT141M Action/Adventure Drama Historical Milla Jovovich Faye Dunaway Dustin Hoffman John Malkovich Columbia Pictures
Movie Review

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

MPAA Rating: R
Milla Jovovich, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

LANCE FEVER ''The Messenger'''s Jovovich is up in arms

EW's GRADE
C-

Details Rated: R; Length: 141 Minutes; Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Historical; With: Milla Jovovich; Distributor: Columbia Pictures

A couple of ornately armored soldiers get their heads lopped off in full blood-spurting glory, and there are several startling low-angle shots of Dustin Hoffman's nostrils (he plays -- no lie -- the heroine's conscience). That aside, there's precious little in Luc Besson's solemnly inflated, battle-weary historical epic The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc that inspires much surprise. It's a cast-of-thousands movie in the doggiest, most literal-minded sense: With all of those extras lancing and thwacking away, the viewer strains to feel much of a connection to any of them.

As Joan, the indefatigable teenage saint who, in the early 1400s, leads the French army in a crusade against the invading English, Milla Jovovich isn't terrible, exactly. Plucky and defiant, with a flop of sun-washed blond hair that still looks like next season's fashion-runway revolt, she wields a broadsword with confidence, and she keeps her tulip-soft features proudly alert.

Her warrior-jock Joan certainly holds the eye, but whenever Jovovich speaks, she sounds singsongy and flip -- depressingly un-mythic. She has dynamism, of a sort, but no ferocity, no agony-and-ecstasy fire. ''I don't think,'' says Joan. ''I leave that to God.'' Jovovich seems to have left her acting to God, too.

There's a token of castle intrigue: John Malkovich, as the opportunistic French dauphin, who is waiting to be crowned, delights a bit too obviously in being John Malkovich, and Faye Dunaway, as his scheming mother-in-law, looks and acts like a scary wax-museum version of her former self.

Mostly, though, the film lays on the stolid combat: flaming arrows, men storming castles on rickety ladders, catapults shooting boulders. (There are only so many ways to photograph a catapult.) Besson has always been a bit of a hack, but he worked with zappier personality and flair in ''The Professional'' and ''The Fifth Element'' than he does in this pious, super-square action dud.

By the time Hoffman shows up, sounding like he was beamed in from a much later century, we realize that Joan has no one left to talk to but her inner self, and that it would be hard to imagine a martyrdom more weightless than Milla Jovovich going to the stake for faith.

Originally posted Nov 12, 1999 Published in issue #513 Nov 19, 1999 Order article reprints