Shoot The Messenger

Luc Besson throws Joan of Arc back into the fire

This is nothing, however, compared with the outright belly laughs elicited by the movie's other bit of star casting. Shortly before the end -- as Joan mopes in her cell and asks for a message from God -- she is revisited by The Conscience, now, for whatever reason, portrayed as a middle-aged man. And at this moment, The Messenger skids into Airplane! turf, because...The Conscience is played by Dustin Hoffman. Poor Joan is in the throes of a crisis of faith, and whom does God send? A sixtyish, 5-foot-4 Jew with an American accent, all done up as though it's Halloween and he's going trick-or-treating as Obi-Wan Kenobi, to boot. It's Ratso Rizzo in Rouen, the Rain Man in robes.

It's absolutely ludicrous. It's not so much the Jewishness, though Hoffman's voice and intonations evoke memories of Mel Brooks' take on Joan of Arc. ("She used to say to me, 'I gotta save France.' I used to say, 'Look. I gotta go wash up. You save France, and I'll see you later. After you save France, I'll wash up, ya know.' Her in her way, me in mine.") But Hoffman is so recognizably, distractingly himself and so irrevocably modern. Like Al Pacino in 1985's Revolution, he doesn't time-travel well on-screen past about 1900. When Woody Allen went Napoleonic in Love and Death, this sort of temporal displacement was meant to be funny. Here it's not meant to be, but it is nonetheless.

A model citizen: Milla Jovovich does what she can, but you'll never be able to save this Joan of Arc.
A model citizen: Milla Jovovich does what she can, but you'll never be able to save this Joan of Arc.

Details

Starring Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, and Tcheky Karyo

Opens November 12

Official site

Directed by Luc Besson

Screenplay by Andrew Birkin and Luc Besson

This appearance -- little more than a cameo -- destroys whatever claim on seriousness Besson and Jovovich have managed to establish. It's not clear that The Messenger would have worked -- to contemporary eyes, the literalness of cinema makes Joan's zealotry look more like insanity anyway -- but the ludicrous casting of Hoffman is just the fatal bit of kindling on this Joan's fire.

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