Jean-Claude Van Damme (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a washed-up action star. He only gets parts in movies he doesn’t actually want to make, and often loses them to Steven Seagal. His personal life is in ruins, too: He’s fighting for the custody of his child, he has no money and things seem to be closing in on him. When he decides to go back to Brussels to take a break and go for a fresh start, he gets caught up in a robbery of the post office – and the police think he’s the one doing it.
JCVD is an astonishing movie. Not only are you surprised that Jean-Claude Van Damme can act, it’s also nice to see that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. But none of this would have been possible without Mabrouk El Mechri, who wrote a phenomenal script and shot the movie in a way that treats Van Damme with sensitivity and respect, but makes a little fun of him, too.
I have to be honest – there was a time when I very much loved one Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Don’t ask me why, I honestly don’t know – it’s not that I usually like this kind of movies nor that it was especially good. But somehow, I liked it. And then the stories of Van Damme beating up his wife (or girlfriend?) and that one infamous video where he gets a hard-on during a dance on live TV… well let’s put it that way – that took something important from the man and the movies.
Anyway, I thought, “here’s the chance for him to ‘redeem’ himself – let’s give him that. And maybe I can even watch that one movie again and not feel bad about it. Or probably not.”
And boy, did he prove himself or what?! The whole movie focusses completely on him and he’s always there, giving the performance of his lifetime. The – already much talked about – 6-minutes-one-shot monologue is more emotional (and honest) than all his prior movies combined, but also in the other scenes he’s just very present.
But as I said before, it’s not only Van Damme being the best he ever was, it’s also Mabrouk El Mechri. His script is great – full of warmth and humour (like when the police officer says: “Central to Unit 27. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s robbing a post office. I need back-up.”), but also honest and full of action.
The narrative is not chronological, but that fits the whole thing very well – and the structure is really good. It never gets confusing.
Mechri obviously is a Tarantino fan (there’s chapters and the achronological structure), but he does his own thing and not just copies him. I have to admit that I loved his directing from the first scene, where Van Damme shoots a movie in Hong Kong and there’s this really long action scene, basically the duration of the opening credits, 5 minutes at least. And it’s (apparently) all in one shot. Loved that.
There’s a lot of long shots, though he usually moves with the camera, so it never seems too static. [And I’m a fan of long shots anyway.]
The only thing I have to criticise here is that there’s some wobbly hand-held camera, which I thought unnecessary.
Another thing I have to point out, which was very well done, was the switch between point of views. We see some scenes twice, but it never really feels that way because the camera angle changes and also, the point where they start and end.
So, altogether I’d say that this movie was a full success and is really recommended.