Dir: Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008. Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Francois Damiens, Zinedine Soualem. Mystery/Thriller.

In one of 2008’s most original visions, JCVD is the story of movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme returning to his home in Brussels and getting stuck in the middle of a bank robbery.

Writer Frederic Benudis and co-writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri create a truly unique and ambitious film working as part docudrama, part crime caper. The storytelling is crafted so that the film operates on multiple levels, making it something unlike what we have seen before.

Pierre-Yves Bastard beautifully photographs the film using a monochromatic template. He makes great use of long take tracking shots, especially in the opening sequence as JCVD hits too many action beats to count, knocking bad guys unconscious or blowing them away until someone messes up the take. I knew I was going to like this film from that very first scene.

Not to discredit the huge niche he carved out for himself in the action genre, but, quite frankly, I was blindsided by Van Damme’s performance. He shows naturalism in JCVD that I had never seen before in his work. He plays a version of his real self, an over-the-hill-international-action hero with an addictive past and problems with his ex-wives, which in itself is an interesting approach to a character. But to then take that version of himself and crash it headlong into a Dog Day Afternoon situation is such an original idea, it provides him with an opportunity to turn his public image on its head.

There is one scene in particular when JCVD is hoisted up into the rafters, camera dead-on him as he confesses to the audience, not only breaking the fourth wall of cinematic story telling, but the fifth as well. It is one of the best scenes I’ve seen in a long while, and Jean-Claude Van Damme gives the highlight performance of his entire career. As he speaks candidly, and with much sorrow and regret, about mistakes made in the past, it’s nearly impossible to tell actor from the part. Told with raw candidness, Van Damme sums up his life in the business. He bares his soul with such brave openness that it changes the way you see him forever.

JCVD is a wonderfully original film, in both premise and execution. But the real reason it is worth watching is one of the most surprising performances in a long time. Although this was the year of the comeback for Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, don't overlook another 1980s icon in JCVD.

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
May 7, 2009 4:25pm
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