Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Van Damme Can Act!!!

I caught one of the most original films I've seen in a long while last week on Netflix: JCVD. Directed by French-Algerian Mabrouk El Mechri, this flick is a hybrid of French New Wave cinema, American action flicks, and Dog Day Afternoon. No really, it is. I'm not making this up.

JCVD is about the "Muscles from Brussels," Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the film gets very meta. Van Damme plays himself, and throughout the story his "character" is forced to confront a lot of personal issues that just so happen to reflect real life issues he's faced over the years. Along the way, he becomes ensnared in a hostage situation in a post office and through an unfortunate confluence of events, the police come to believe he is the hostage-taker. The film is alternatively funny, suspenseful, and surprisingly moving at times.

I'll be the first to admit that I always ridiculed Van Damme for his acting, going all the way back to Bloodsport. But he absolutely shines in this. Many will complain that he's just playing himself, but I don't think that's an easy thing to do. In a way, it requires you still to get into character, but it's a character you have a very subjective, and therefore skewed, view of.

Anyways back to Van Damme's acting. No spoilers here, but there is a five minute sequence in the film where he's speaking in French directly to the camera, laying his soul bare, and it really blew me away. With the omniscience of hindsight, I wish they'd just done all his films in French. It frees him up to truly emote, and it gives him a chance to show off his acting chops, which are startlingly good.

The film currently enjoys an 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (no small feat), and an article in TIME Magazine went as far to say that "He (Van Damme) deserves not a black belt, but an Oscar."

It's a good flick that manages to succeed on many levels. I especially loved the opening scene, one long continuous take of an action sequence that leaves our hero breathless and complaining to the director about his age and not being able to do that kind of thing anymore.


Nathanael Green said...

I'd seen the trailer for this and it looked intriguing. Now I'll definitely have to add it to my to-see list.

Though I am a little hurt by your dig at Bloodsport.

Brian O'Rourke said...


Good cheesy 80s action flick, bad acting, I should have said. I stand corrected.

seanag said...

Even though Van Damme's usual stuff is not really my thing, this sounds very intriguing. I'll have to put it on the list.

Brian O'Rourke said...


I think you'd like it, because it's more about the humor, personal drama, and suspense than it is any action. Very interesting movie.