Thursday, August 20, 2009
OK, cards on the table here: I like Jean-Claude Van Damme. Yes, he does some crappy films, some of which barely deserve anyone's time and attention, but he also does some absolute gems - Legionnaire, Hard Target and In Hell being some of my personal favourites.
Possibly more surprising, though, is that as Van Damme's got older, I've started to rate him more as an actor.
Yes, I really just said that: I started to rate Jean-Claude Van Damme as an actor. His performance in the above mentioned In Hell was a good, solid, turn. I felt his pain and anguish; I felt sorry for him as he descended further and further into an animal-esque existence in that prison. Watching him recently in Until Death, I was actually stunned by his characterisation; rather than the usual clean cut Van Damme high-kicking his way through a selection of bad guys, here we had a a tired, drained looking guy, badly in need of a shave and a shower, who's a pretty shitty piece of work. It's an astounding piece of acting, but it's let down by some dodgy 80's style action sequences and some poor acting from the other actors (Stephen Rea is a great actor, but here, he's clearly doing it for the money).
But last night, on Channel Five, I watched JCVD for the first time.
For those of you reading this not in the know, JCVD is a film from first time director Mabrouk El Mechri that casts Van Damme as Jean-Claude Van Damme. He's a washed up action star, doing terrible films for the money and fighting for custody of his daughter; he returns home to Belgium and is caught in a post office robbery, where everyone expects him to be the hero and save the day, but we see that he's just a guy who's as scared as the hostages.
It's a film reminiscent of Dog Day Afternoon, with elements of Pulp Fiction; it's got good direction, a good script, and, on it's own, it would be a pretty good little crime thriller. However, with Van Damme at the centre of it, it becomes something more. Rather than an overly arrogant star, desperately clinging to whatever level of celebrity he still has, we see what could be the real Van Damme: an ordinary man with every day troubles who's once promising career seems to be stuck in an endless spiral of low budget straight-to-video dross thanks to the fickleness of the Hollywood machine (there's something kind of sad about the scene when he discovers that he's lost out on a part to Steven Segal). He displays a talent and range that you'd never expect and leaves you wondering if he'd done more films in his native language, could he have been taken seriously as an actor?
JCVD truly is an astonishing film, anchored by a jaw dropping performance from The Muscles From Brussels. But it will be criminally overlooked simply because of it's star. It'll be written off as more straight-to-video action that shouldn't be bothered with, destined to be nothing more than action movie filler for TV schedules. So, I implore you, if this comes on TV again soon, watch it and be amazed.
Let me leave you with this quote from TIME Magazine: "He deserves not a black belt, but an Oscar®."