Sabbath Reviews: JCVD (2008)
Sylvester Stallone is 64. Arnold Schwarzenegger is 63. Steven Seagal is 58. Chuck Norris … 70 years old. As of October 18, 2010, Jean-Claude Van Damme is 50 years old.
These men are a pantheon of action movie Gods and they’re all fucking old. I’m not going to argue the merits of their acting abilities or the quality of their filmographies. It’s kind of pointless. Some were bad, some were good, some were great (mostly thanks to the first two). The point is they’re going to be remembered down the road and their names always do bring up a bit of nostalgia. What happened to bad action films? They used to have some kind of charm to them. I don’t know if I’m getting older, if it’s just nostalgia — or what — but bad action movies today just suck.
But hey, Sly has Rocky and Rambo. Arnold has The Terminator. Steven Seagal has … himself … and lets face it, he’s just so bad it’s kind of entertaining sometimes and I still have some kind of weird love for him. Norris has become an internet meme. JCVD is the baby of the bunch and he hasn’t — for better or worse — lived up to his action hero Gods. Did he do it in JCVD?
It’s kind of surreal watching JCVD in a modern film. I don’t know what he’s been up to lately, if anything. I just haven’t seen him in a movie utilizing modern cinematography and with modern film quality. Immediately you expect a popcorn action flick, but you’re going to be disappointed if that’s what you’re here for. Van Damme does very little action in this movie, which means the film lives or dies on his acting and … the result is fucking surprising.
At the beginning we’re treated to an incredibly choreographed scene of Van Damme being an action hero, storming war-torn streets and taking out the bad guys with his martial arts skills. It’s in one sweeping take and it’s actually kind of beautiful and stunning to watch him do all of this at his age. He’s still as fit as ever and hasn’t missed a step. This is the most action we’ll see all movie though and serves as dual purpose — as a “Welcome back!” of sorts to this youngest of our old action heroes, and as a way to set-up the inevitable plot.
JCVD is broke, dealing with massive tax problems, a custody battle, and can only get roles in foreign films with directors who don’t give a shit. At the end of the take, something goes wrong and he’s told it needs to be done. He makes it a point to mention his age (48) and how tough it is for him to do this stuff, and it was a lot of stuff, all in one take. The director is some Asian schmuck who could care less.
From there we move to the courts where previously mentioned custody battle is taking place. Van Damme’s violent movie career is used against him by the opposing attorney and any attempt JCVD makes to try and justify himself (“I was putting food on the table!”) is silenced. He’s just not having a good … uh … life?
That’s the set-up. Here’s the meat of the story: Van Damme goes to a post office to receive a wire transfer and soon the alarm sounds, the building goes into shutdown, and when a nearby cop goes to inspect gets told by Van Damme to go away. Shots are fired afterwards from underneath a security gate, the shooter unseen but one thing’s for certain as far as the police are concerned … the actor, the Belgian hero, has lost his mind.
The reality of the situation is a bit different. Van Damme has stumbled into a robbery and is not being used by the crooks to take the fall. The actor is made to make the negotiations as if they are from him and fool the world.
At this point Van Damme starts karate-ing it up, slaughtering the robbers and proclaiming himself the hero of the day … right? Wrong. The movie isn’t action, I told you. It’s a drama. One of the robbers happens to be a big Van Damme fan and we get to see him kick a cigarette out of a hostage’s mouth without harming him (per the insistence of the robber), but that’s about it. What’s really stunning — and I don’t mean to be a dick — is that JCVD has some real acting chops. I’m not crazy here either. Time Magazine considered his performance the second best of the year (behind Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight). That’s some serious praise and it’s actually well-deserved.
In one of the more famous scenes from the film Van Damme gives an unscripted monologue … and it feels/sounds unscripted. At first it’s sort of random and all over the place, but then he starts shooting from the hip and his words come from the heart. He talks about his life, his pitfalls, his highs … it’s actually pretty awesome. It came close to getting added to my Top 5 Speeches/Monologues list for this blog. This movie might be a sort of satire of the actor’s life, but this part right here is all heart. Kudos to Van Damme.
If I have any complaint with the film its with the brown/desaturated look the whole movie has. Apparently it’s very common in French cinema these days (also in post-apocalyptic shooter video games) and while it’s not AWFUL … it’s a little too on the nose. Yeah, I get it. His life is pretty bleak. Appreciate the symbolism, but I’m kind of choking on it here.
Other than that I highly recommend JCVD as a very nice surprise. I hear Van Damme’s trying to steer away from his action roots and do more serious films like this … that’s upsetting and I hope he doesn’t forget that those movies made him. He has the chops. He could definitely do better action movies if he took the right roles … but most of all, Van Damme, The Expendables 2 needs you. Just do it.
I’m including the trailer, but there’s no point. The trailer is filled with scenes from the first 5 minutes of the movie and try to pimp this as an action movie. Once again, that’s NOT what you’re getting. Also, I don’t recall the scene with Van Damme doing blow and somebody going through a glass window at a club. They probably got cut. Damn shame.