Reviewed by: Matthew Rees
Starring: Leelee Sobieski, Jacqueline Bisset, Powers Boothe, Neil Patrick Harris, Maury Chaykin, Olympia Dukakis, Jonathan Hyde, Robert Loggia, Shirley MacLaine, Peter O'Toole, Maximilian Schell, Peter Strauss, Chad Willett, Ron White, Jaimz Woolvett | Director: Christian Duguay | Writers: Michael Alexander Miller, Ronald Parker
“The Messenger” is a film I admit I have not seen, and probably won’t see after observing the negative thoughts from various Christian moviegoers. Instead, I want to draw attention to a worthy alternative: the two-part miniseries “Joan of Arc” which was released during the early part of 1999. It stars Leelee Sobieski.
The acting in “Joan of Arc” is exceptional, especially for a made-for-TV movie. Sobieski is radiant in the title role, and the supporting cast is uniformly outstanding as well, with the possible exception of an English nobleman who comes across as a caricature. The violence is brutal but not overly graphic, and there isn’t any offensive language to my knowledge.
Most importantly, though, this film demonstrates a deep respect for the Christian faith. Even Peter O'Toole, as the bishop who plays an instrumental role in Joan’s downfall, is not so much a villain as a tragic, jaded figure who recognizes that he is destroying an innocent woman. He sees his actions as necessary to preserve the stability of France. One of the best throwaway lines in the film is delivered by O'Toole to King Charles as he is being sent away to the English, indicting the king for his betrayal of Joan.
Joan herself is portrayed as a passionate, courageous and devout woman who has complete faith in God and in her conviction that He has chosen her to free France. There is no hint of insanity in her demeanor; instead, she shows a remarkable calm even in the midst of battle and at her own execution. Although the film does not directly show us Joan’s visions—and therefore declines to take a position about whether they really came from God—it clearly leaves the possibility open.
The effect that Joan has on those around her is remarkable. Common people are inspired to acts of courage. A young, cocky soldier grows to admire and ultimately love her. A cynical mercenary, at first hostile to taking orders from a woman, eventually risks everything in an attempt to rescue her. Whatever your personal beliefs about the authenticity of Joan’s visions, this film makes a stunning statement about the power of faith and hope. It’s a shame that this movie wasn’t shown in theaters, because it probably won’t get the attention it deserves. If you ever get a chance to see it, don’t pass it up. It’s possibly the best Christian movie of the decade.