johnlink ranks JCVD (2008)

I never watch trailers. Ever. I avoid them like the plague. Last time I watched a trailer was for DARK KNIGHT RISES and a big late second act moment (the exploding football stadium) went from being a moment of “Oh My God, Batman didn’t save them!” to a moment where the entire audience went “Oh. There’s the stadium. It’s about to blow up.” So, yeah, I avoid trailers. However, sometimes a movie like JCVD gets knocked too far down my wishlist because I really have no idea what it’s about. Ultimately, though, I’m just glad I finally watched this movie.


I watched JCVD (2008) on 9.11.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is a movie in which Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a fictional version of himself. This isn’t an action movie per se, it isn’t a comedy, or a witty look at Hollywood. This is a suspense movie about a job gone wrong in which Van Damme, playing himself, gets caught in the middle.

This movie should have sucked. The amount of ego it would seem to take to make a movie like this would seem to demand that there is no moment of reality, no taking off the mask. You would think we would see the ‘real’ JCVD beating guys up just like the fictional guy does.

Instead, we see a guy who is too old to do action scenes in one take, a guy who goes on to lose his daughter in a bitter custody battle (in real life he has a son), a guy who is a former star who can’t get an ATM to give him money, a guy who is trying to be nice to people but is busting at the seams.

All of this is before the crazy stuff really goes down. This movie, in a non-linear format, turns out to be about desperation. Much of it comes from JCVD himself, but we getting a surprising amount of it from the people around him as well.

This absolutely would not have been made in Hollywood. There is a moment in the last twenty minutes of the film, a monologue, which makes the Ed Norton mirror monologue in 25th Hour look like a common film gag. The crazy thing about all of this is how well Van Damme pulls it all off.

Is he acting? Is he just being himself? It might seem like it would be easy to say that he isn’t acting when he bears his soul, but the fact of the matter is that he is addressing the camera in a way that he knows will be screened to the world. It’s hauntingly personal, even if I have no idea how much is true, how much he means, and how much it really all matters. Van Damme’s acting here, and I will call it acting, is absolutely stunning. This is damn effective and innovative filmmaking at the least.

Is this a good movie? Heck, I’m still not sure. The suspense story has mostly been done before and we certainly wouldn’t care if it wasn’t Van Damme playing himself, but him instead playing a guy named ABCD or something. Again, the filmmaking in all of its surprisingly subtle power masks many of the questions regarding how entertaining the movie we are watching really is.

This is a movie which loves movies, but does not grovel at their feet. It references films constantly. The police set up shop in a movie store, only they need privacy so they have to use the back room where all the porn is kept. The opening scene of Van Damme doing his thing is wildly (and purposely) inconsistent and patently fake. The final moments before the epilogue make you question what it is about a movie you cheer for and why.

Director Mabrouk El Mechri has a vision. It may be confusing at times. It may be muddy at times. But he sure knows he is in control. Sometimes his handheld camera gets a little too out of control (and this is coming from a fan of the Greengrass style of action), but not enough to really be concerning. All in all, this is just fascinating. A must see for fans of films which challenge your expectations.





~ by johnlink00 on September 13, 2013.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks JCVD (2008)”

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