Premise: When a young French farm girl watches her family get slaughtered by the English, she vows revenge on the murderer, and leads an army against him and his country.
About: After the success of Braveheart, everyone in Hollywood was trying to get a Joan of Arc movie made. Katheryn Bigelow, who’d been trying to make a Joan of Arc movie for years, was collaborating with Luc Besson on a project, only for Besson to pull out when he was told his then wife, Milla Jovovich, couldn’t play the lead. Besson then set up his own separate Joan of Arc project, for which Bigelow sued him for stealing her research. She should’ve sued him for making one of the worst movies of the decade. In Nomine Dei was a separate project bought by Joel Silver by Laeta Kalogridis, who most recently created the upcoming Netflix series, Altered Carbon, as well as wrote one of the upcoming Avatar sequels.
Writer: Laeta Kalogridis
Details: 130 pages (undated – likely somewhere between 1995-1997)
Uh, Hollywood? Hashtag, Ya slackin.
You’d think that with the tsunami of female dominated films taking over town, that someone, somewhere, would’ve thought to reintroduce the original female superhero: Joan of Freaking Arc. When you consider we haven’t had a good swords-and-sandals epic in ages AND that Joan of Arc’s IP is free for anyone to use, I’d go so far as to say Hollywood producers should start getting fired for not thinking of this.
I’m going to make a bold statement. Within two weeks of this review, one of the major studios will announce a Joan of Arc film. After every single producer in Hollywood bops themselves on the head for overlooking such an obvious green light, the race will be on to put a package together. Will it be with this script? Good question. Despite the screenplay being over 20 years old, Kalogridis is an A-lister. So let’s find out it the script is any good.
Our movie starts in 1443, with prisoner Giles de Rais, who fought with Joan of Arc, scheduled to be burned at the stake tomorrow. When a young priest visits him the night before to persuade him to admit fault for aligning with “the devil’s wife,” de Rais forces the priest to hear Joan of Arc’s story.
Jump back 14 years to Domremy, a small village in the French countryside. Joan and her family live a pleasant life, despite the fact that a war has been going on between England and France for a hundred years. The English army would never bother venturing out to random towns in the countryside, though. It’s too much hassle.
Except that’s exactly what happens. The evil general, Raverford, slaughters Joan’s family in front of her, then leaves her for dead. Joan isn’t dead, however. After waking up in a pile of discarded bodies, she travels with other refugees to Valcoleurs, and demands the local mayor give her an army so she can attack England.
He thinks she’s crazy, of course, but Joan finds a believer in 17 year old Jean de Metz. After Joan has a dream that Valcoleurs is attacked, and then the next day it is, de Metz starts telling everyone that Joan is a messenger of God, that he himself told her of the impending attack. Joan denies this at first. But as the legend of her premonitions grows, she embraces it so she can enact revenge.
Around this time, Joan meets de Rais (the dude from the opening) and he helps her raise an army to attack the English. Off they go to Orleans, where they gain soldiers along the way who have heard of Joan, and they win a major battle. When the King of France learns that he can use this Joan chick to improve his image, he puts the might of the French army behind her. But when push comes to shove, he grows scared of giving so much power to a woman, and deceives Joan when she needs him most.
It’s funny. When I first began writing my analysis of this script, I highlighted the fact that it was easy to follow. Hard-to-follow screenplays are a MAJOR mistake writers make when writing historical epics. They zoom out too much, try and cover too many things, and the story becomes messy and unfocused, leaving the reader to wonder what the damn thing is about.
However, when I moved on to my criticisms, my big one was that the story was too simple. There was no scope here. It amounted to a woman trying to get revenge. I don’t know a whole lot about Joan of Arc. But I thought she fought in these huge battles. Going off this screenplay, she was involved in a couple of battles, the biggest of which had around 1000 people involved. It was anticlimactic to say the least.
The thing about Braveheart (a clear influence here) was that it covered so many characters, so many sides, so much time, it truly felt epic. And that would be my main knock on In Nomine Dei. You have to give the audience what they expect. If they sit down expecting a five-course meal, don’t hand them a bowl of soup.
Speaking of Braveheart, this might be a good time to debate a common practice all screenwriters face. When you’re writing a script, should you watch the successful movies in that genre? Common sense says yes. You want to study why something worked in the hopes of applying that formula to your own script. The problem with this practice is that you risk these movies having too much influence.
It became blatantly clear to me after reading In Nomine Dei that Kalogridis rotated two movies over and over again in her DVD player – The Princess Bride and Braveheart. She frames the story via a “Let me tell you a story” device, just like Princess Bride. And the relationship between Joan and Raverford is so similar to Inigo Montoya and the six-fingered man that it bordered on silly. The whole “Get revenge for killing my family” storyline was also, obviously, influenced by the “Get revenge for killing my wife” storyline in Braveheart.
Look, I get it. You want to know the recipe for success. But if you watch similar successful movies for inspiration, do so with caution. Pay particular attention that you’re not copying their beats. Cause some will slip in there subconsciously regardless. One of my main pieces of advice to writers is to not repeat what someone else has done. But to create something original that others will want to repeat.
But the script’s biggest sin is easily its vanilla characters. Raverford was the most one-dimensional villain ever. By that I mean, he was only terrible because the writer needed him to be. He had no motivation whatsoever besides “Be awful.” A character who’s in 70% of the scenes, Jean de Metz, has so little depth that had the writer stopped including him in the second half of the script with no explanation as to where he went, I wouldn’t have noticed. Giles de Rais is kind of interesting. But that’s only because we know him outside the context of the main narrative. When he’s around Joan, he becomes so docile and plain, it’s like he’s not a person anymore. It’s bizarre. Even Joan of Arc was kind of lame. She seems like she would be one of the easiest characters to make interesting, and yet she’s relegated to this one-track mission of revenge and having the occasional lame dream.
I believe there’s a great Joan of Arc movie out there. But it needs a writer committed to creating a rich narrative and some really memorable characters (not just lean on Joan to carry everything). So who’s going to write that movie? And how would you frame a Joan of Arc narrative?
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If I learned anything from this script it’s to make sure your supporting characters have their own lives, their own fears, problems, personalities, interests, conflicts, etc. We can get lost in our main character and believe, when they’re onscreen, that they’re all that matters. But if the characters around them are weak and boring, the scenes themselves will be weak and boring. And that was this whole script. No interesting supporting characters and a lot of lifeless scenes.
By the way: Who would you cast as Joan of Arc?