The Messenger (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Like so many other stories in Hollywood, this one has been told time and time again. And until I watched “The Messenger” my closest association with the legendary “Joan of Arc” was one of the groups of historical figures that traveled with Bill and Ted (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure). Of course, there is much more to Joan or Arc than doing jumping jacks at a mall! It’s also noteworthy that this film is directed by none other than Luc Besson. I personally love his work. He has a “vision” and is one of the best at putting it directly onto film, so if you haven’t seen such visually moving films like “La Femme Nikita”, “The Professional” or “The Fifth Element” check at least one of those out, as you’re missing out on some great films. It seems that a common theme in his films is to focus on the “underdog”, someone who must overcome impossible odds to accomplish their goal, is this true in The Messenger as well?

Giving a bit of history to Joan of Arc (Jeanne D’Arc) the film starts in her childhood where she is a mere peasant girl, fleeing soldiers. She travels home where she finds her sister in a hiding place. In what is probably the most gruesome scene of the film, her sister gives up her safety and is found by the soldiers; then killed and raped. Joan is beside herself with guilt and despair and travels to the local church seeking a rational explanation for what has just transpired. Joan is a devout Catholic, she goes to Mass three or four times a day, enough to make even the priests annoyed, but her explanation is that maybe God has another higher purpose for her. We then travel ahead and meet the soon to be King, Charles VII (John Malkovich) who has been receiving strange, cryptic letters from a peasant girl who wants a meeting with him. Not knowing what to do, he begrudgingly accepts the invitation, only to try and trick her by replacing himself with one of his noble aides. His logic is that if she truly is from God, she will know the true King, and if she is an assassin, then she will kill the wrong person. Unusual logic, but it made sense back in the Middle Ages during wartime, I’m sure.

Slowly, through her divine guidance, she persuades the armies of France to follow her into battle. What looks like impossible odds are nothing under her pseudo-leadership. Walls tumble, armies fall and time after time, the seemingly invincible troops of England fall at the hands of the French. We learn in the featurette that the actual course of Joan of Arc was two years (from her age of 17-19), but the movie actually shows about four or five battles that concentrate and show the influence she has over the French. Now it’s said that “All good things must come to an end…”. This could never be more true that the turning point of The Messenger. At what seems to be the peak of the French military height, with the English falling at many battles, things start to slow down. It seems that Joan is on a mission of her own and some start to question her motives and if she is still, truly, receiving signs from God. King Charles VII already has his crown, which is what he was after in the first place, and now has lost interest in the military aspect of France. Slowly, but surely, he weans Joan away from the resources that she has become so used to and the armies are affected. No longer are the French “inspired”, but rather they retreat!

It’s at this time that Joan becomes captured by a neutral country and is literally auctioned off between England and France to the highest bidder. The English, being the arrogant race that they are, pay the ransom and hence have control over Joan. She has been the source of humiliation and embarrassment to them for the past few years and they stop at nothing to have her pay for what she has done to them. France has all but lost Joan to them, they do raise a hefty $10,000 ransom fee, but we’re led to believe that the King had plans for it other than giving it away as ransom. And so it begins…the trial of Joan of Arc. It’s at this point in the movie (if you can’t tell by now, this is a lengthy movie) that we finally meet the character of Dustin Hoffman. He plays “The Conscience”. Knowing the character’s name helps define his role, as I believed that he was God. His part is small, but being the great actor that he is, he executes is wonderfully and adds a whole new depth to the movie. We know what happens to Joan of Arc, as it’s a true story, but Milla Jovovich (who is easily one of the most beautiful women in the world, even when dressed like a man) plays the part eloquently.

The Messenger was a movie that I had certain reservations about, I had not seen the Artisan version with Lelee Sobieski (or however you spell her name), but I’m curious as to what it’s like now. After seeing how wonderfully Luc Besson did this movie, I can say two things: I can’t wait for his next film and I have a new respect for Milla Jovovich (she was a bit annoying in The Fifth Element). While the movie clocks in around 2 hours and 40 minutes, I believe that it’s worth it. The sheer visual imagery and grandeur scale of it all are something you don’t see that often. Fight scenes rival that of Braveheart and are at sometimes even more gruesome. You can come to your own conclusions about this movie, but for me…it’s a keeper.

Video: How does it look?

It’s been nearly a decade since I last saw “The Messenger” and it’s just as good as I remember. Sony’s 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer looks outstanding and though the print has a few flaws on it, I was highly impressed overall. The color palette varies from being very vibrant to a somewhat muted presence in the last act. Detail level is top notch with very good clarity and black levels are right on target as well. Granted, the movie isn’t that old and this Blu-ray makes it look like it just left theaters and that’s saying something. A fine effort here and one that fans will surely love.

Audio: How does it sound?

A Dolby TrueHD track is present here, up from a Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the standard DVD. I have to admit that I was really impressed with what I heard as I wasn’t expecting too much (though my scores for the standard DVD were very high). In true epic form, “The Messenger” has plenty of battle scenes and even the little sounds, like the crackling of fire, sound very robust. Dialogue is very clear and Dustin Hoffman’s booming voice sounds clear as day. Like any great action movie, the uncompressed mix brings the film to life and while not reference quality, it’s a great mix that’s sure to please.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Unfortunately, what paltry extras were present on the standard DVD have been removed, though the disc is BD Live enabled. Otherwise, that’s all we have.

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