Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Movie Review: JCVD

JCVD stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme the star and main character of this crime drama. The action star, well actor, well the first billed name on a bunch of movies, well direct-to-video releases, plays a (presumably) fictionalized version of himself with a lot of the basic facts based on his real life. He's from Belgium, starred in action films based on his kickboxing skills, was married 5 times, has several kids, and took drugs and watched his film career decline.

JCVD starts with an opening tracking shot of him making his way through various stunts in an obviously bad film. We then see him losing a child custody battle. His ex-wife's lawyer uses his (real-life) DVDs against him. Then he's at the center of a hostage situation at a Brussel's post office (which as in most European countries, also serves as a bank). The hostage story is the center of the film and it's told a few times from different points of view. It mostly works though it is a little slow in some parts.

The surprise is the Van Damme does a good job acting. He's, ahhhh, quite believable as himself, but can also emote. I wondered if it was because he mostly speaks in his native French. Also surprising is that almost a third of the film is improvised (including a taxi ride with a, ah, talkative driver and a conversation with JCVD's agent.). There's a long monologue by Van Damme, where he talks directly to the audience in one 8 minute long take. I've seen some reviews call it indulgent but I found it quite absorbing and it set up the end of the film. What I found indulgent was some of the cinematography which has a strong sepia tone and some halo-like effects from strong overhead lighting.

In spite of some small flaws, this Being John Malkovich-lite film worked for me. A lot, but not all of the tension was effective and the emotional response for and from someone who previously played a violent android was surprising and welcome.

Between this and In Bruges, both being set in Belgium, I'm fairly certain that Belgium has never been as well represented on the screen of US cinemas.


Karl said...

I remember how surprised I was the first time (back in the mid 80s) I saw an interview with schwatzenegger in german. He seemed quite intelligent. It's amazing how much level of speech and accent affect our preception of people.

Howard said...

Or what their film characters are like vs them.

It make sense for people speaking a recently learned language. You first learn the simple vocabulary, so you speak using simple words and sound simple.