Saturday, 24 March 2018

Alternate Best Actor 2008: Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD

Jean-Claude Van Damme did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying himself in JCVD.

JCVD is decent enough as heist/hostage situation film but what takes it further is how it interweaves its meta examination of its star.

Jean-Claude Van Damme aka "the muscles from Brussels" made a name for himself in the late eighties and early nineties as an ex-kick boxer turned actor in a string of actions films. Although few hold those films in the regard of high art he did achieve a certain popularity, although not for his acting ability. In fact Van Damme's struggle with perhaps the English language frequently became a point of derision. As with most action stars, despite endearing himself to some audiences, he faded away just like most of them as the general view of the films as low quality in no way cemented him as a cinematic mainstay beyond them. As that sort of faction of the action genre fell mostly towards the straight to DVD bin as did Van Damme. A notable exception in this was this film that fell onto Van Damme shoulders, a film that required far less action from him, and for Van Damme to, well, to act. Act as "himself" however as I always I will stress this is easier said than done, and common derision of someone only playing him or herself should never be used, since bringing your best self across on screen is a challenge in itself. Van Damme's work though goes beyond that though as he is not playing Van Damme as the average citizen, or even average movie star, but rather someone being tested to the limits by the situation he is placed in.

Now I guess the first question though here is can Jean-Claude Van Damme act at all since he was better known for his splits than his dramatic ability. Well one can instantly answer this question with a resounding, yes. He can not only act he can do so much within his portrayal of Van Damme's plight within this film which goes far beyond a simple gimmick. Now there is of course some fun to be had from this in a few scenes where we see Van Damme sort of living his life as the celebrity who everyone has a great deal of expectations of where ever he goes. Van Damme captures the light comedy of this incredibly well. First just in his moments of portraying just the state of just trying to be lightly charming even when also reflecting that the man certainly has more going on in his mind at the time. Van Damme captures this dynamic well both in less problematic circumstances such as just taking pictures with a couple fans quickly, or when dealing with his overly aggressive taxi driver. Van Damme is actually rather amusing in finding just this quiet exasperation not as a dismissive ego but rather a disbelief over the driver's attitude for him merely being tired. These are little moments well realized by Van Damme that lightly play with his image.

We are not given just a distant look at the man though as we follow him during a rough patch where he is finding little decent work, and has lost the custody of his daughter. Van Damme is surprisingly effective in bringing to life the world weariness within his eyes as he suffers one grievance after another. Van Damme however doesn't overwhelm this to the point of becoming one note finding a occasionally a more comedic angle when dealing with the nonsense of his agent, or from hearing the news that he lost out on a part because Steven Seagal was willing to cut off his ponytail for a role. Van Damme has just the right type of fun at his own expense in these moments in finding a different sort of weariness in his reactions as though the world is playing a bit of a joke on him. Van Damme though is most remarkable though in how all the early scenes, chronologically speaking, he shows a man very much taking in just every bad thing that is happening to him. He realizes that stress of it though as he delivers so well it as an embodiment just through that exasperation and a slightly growing intensity in his physical manner. This is until he arrives to a post office in his home town of Brussels where he is denied a transfer essential to maintain his legal counsel.

Technically speaking his performance is already surprising up until this point however this is the one major indication of some untapped or unrealized talent on his part. Van Damme is incredible in the scene as he brilliantly unleashes the emotional tension within himself. The outrage is dripping with very much this terrible desperation that Van Damme finds in every word a desperation alluding to a definite sorrow revealing the real view of his life. When he is initially told the post office is in fact being robbed Van Damme is also great in portraying the way of trying to put on a star persona again. In just realizing such a genuine apology and ardent disbelief when he believes it is initially just a prank being played upon him. It of course turns out to be a real robbery which leads to Van Damme to become a different type of hero within this story than is usual the case for him. Van Damme is better here than he ever was as the "quipping action hero" type in revealing a far more grounded figure here as Van Damme has to try to save himself, the hostage, and maneuver around the criminals as well. Van Damme is great in providing this certain balance within his work in these interactions as he does note simply reverts to the Van Damme formula, other than a special exception I'll get to later, providing a far more nuanced depiction fitting to the situation.

Van Damme is great in the moments where he interacts with each of the criminals showing sort of the man playing the different sides to each. In dealing with the most psychotic of the group Van Damme most directly just tries to put up the front of a strict calm of a hostage doing whatever it takes to please his potentially murderous captors. This is opposed to his interactions with one of the robbers who is also big fan of Van Damme. Van Damme in these moments brings back sort of the adjusted modest celebrity in these interactions. Van Damme properly maintains this strict undercurrent of genuine concern towards the hostages, and also this subtle unease revealing his own fears towards his own safety as well. He keeps this a direct constant within his work at all times even while he plays the part of the "robber" for the criminals, as in his eyes always revealing the truth of the matter even when he lies in moments. Now as good as Van Damme in leading up to all of this what makes this performance truly stand out is the moment where Van Damme is briefly literally lifted off the set and out of the scene to deliver a long take monologue directly towards the audience.

Although there were naysayers towards this scene when the film initially premiered it has become the most famous scene of the film, and I say rightfully so. In the scene Van Damme not only reveals essentially his feelings towards the present situation in the film, but also examines his life and career up to this point. Now already taking in the extra element of the situation of the film moves this away from simply playing himself, however one should not hand wave what Van Damme does when speaking of his own life. Van Damme has no simplifications in the moment speaking clearly of experience yet projecting it with the power of a great performer. Van Damme does not tread lightly in this regard remarking not only on his troubled career, but also his failed marriages and his drug addiction of the past. There is such a strict honesty in every word as it feels as though Van Damme is simply revealing his soul to you as he speaks. What I love though is it is not a simple airing of grievances anything remotely in that vein. He speaks to what inspired him in the past and we get that sense of a long ago dream that carries such poignancy. Van Damme specific delivery of "Ooss" the spoken word of the samurai code reveals such a profound passion as connected to the nature of martial arts. This quickly against his direct and blunt response offered by Hollywood of "We're gonna fuck him", towards that original optimism that perhaps defined his dream broken by harsh realities. He is heartbreaking in revealing essentially these losses of that initial spirit, and his own decay as a person. There is a deeply apologetic element as he directly acknowledges the sins of the past with such a potent anguish. His declaration of having accomplished nothing is presented with such harrowing truth in Van Damme's eyes and in his voice. It is an incredible scene as Van Damme offers such a real vulnerability as he seems to grant this insight into a man's life without a single barrier keeping us from seeing his real wounds, and lost dreams. This is far beyond any standard action hero, although I will say I have great affection where Van Damme brings that alive for a single brief fantasy sequence where we get of grandiose Van Damming which Van Damme plays for all its worth with both his over the top roundhouse then his even more absurd playing to the crowd, which stands as an entertaining moment though just a facet that is part of this performance. This is outstanding work by Jean-Claude Van Damme. He entertains by playing with his image without becoming a caricature of himself as you might expect with a star playing himself but he goes so much further as he also offers a truly moving depiction of a man coming to grips with his own failures.

40 comments:

Luke Higham said...

A performance I really need to check out. :)

Anonymous said...

Louis: your top 10 alec baldwin and matt damon acting moments

Luke Higham said...

I guess the top 5 will be:
1. Gleeson
2. Farrell
3. Hoffman
4. Van Damme
5. Rourke

Michael McCarthy said...

I’m happy to see you seem to be saving the best two films in this lineup for last.

Luke Higham said...

I sincerely hope Tse is Supporting. Can't wait for this lineup to finish as I've been wanting to get his opinion on Let The Right One In for ages.

Calvin Law said...

Yeah, Revanche was pretty great. I actually might even prefer Kirsch slightly over Hoffman.

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd see the day where Jean-Claude Van Damme gets a 5.

Bryan L said...

Louis: Your cast and director for a 2010s version of The Deer Hunter (with Jake Gyllenhaal as Nick of course)? And your reasons?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your cast and director for:
Gangs of New York (1950's version)
A Few Good Men (1960's version)
The Aviator (1980's version)

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your lowest 3 on your 2010-2016 supporting lists?

Calvin Law said...

Saw Pacific Rim Uprising. It's pretty trashy, and a huge stepdown from the first which is more of just an entertaining pulpy film, in almost every regards bar a few shining spots.

Boyega - 3.5
Eastwood - 1.5
Spaney - 2.5
Kikuchi - 2.5 (hate what they did with her)
Day - 2 (could go lower)
Gorman - 3
Jing - 2.5

Mitchell Murray said...

Here's a good question: As far as Hollywood nepotism goes, is Scott Eastwood better or worse than Jaden Smith?

Luke Higham said...

Mitchell: Better.

Calvin Law said...

Eastwood is a black vacuum of charisma and Smith's given one decent performance, but I'd agree with Luke in that he hasn't been pushed in our faces as much (and to be fair I respect him for trying to carve out his own niche, he's just not very good).

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Scott tried to use his mother's name as his stage name to avoid nepotism yet it was already taken.

Anonymous said...

Louis: For that 40's Apocalypse Now cast you did with Wyler as the director, Andrews as Willard, Robinson as Kurtz and Cagney as Kilgore, who would be the screenwriter?

Robert MacFarlane said...

Okay, so I saw Death of Stalin and rather liked it, but am I really the only one who considered Buscemi and Beale very obvious leads? This wasn’t like In the Loop where it kept cutting to different members of the ensemble, it kept cutting between the two of them equally.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Your top 10 Christopher Nolan and David Fincher directing moments, and your overall thoughts on their directorial styles.

Anonymous said...

Louis: If Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner ever appear in the DCEU, who would you choose for those roles? And Sinestro as well.

Calvin Law said...

Loved Isle of Dogs. Surprisingly emotional, and of course hilarious, in classic Wes Anderson fashion though I have a few exceedingly minor reservations.

Luke Higham said...

Calvin: Your ratings for the cast.

Calvin Law said...

Cranston: 4
Rankin: 3.5
Norton, Murray, Balaban, Goldblum: 3.5
Nomura: 3
McDormand and Gerwig: 3
Johnasson: 3
Abraham: 3
Schrieber: 4
Vance: 3.5

Every voice casting is spot on though with particular affection for Harvey Keitel as a remorseful tough guy dog and Tilda Swinton as a pug

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Are you still deciding on Pepper's placement for Three Burials.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Baldwin:

1. Put that coffee down - Glengarry Glen Ross
2. Initial rundown - The Departed
3. Golf course - The Departed
4. Attacking the screw up - The Departed
5. You want those codes - The Departed
6. Different theory - The Hunt for Red October
7. Choosing to speak - Concussion
8. Having died - Bettlejuice
9. Having gone too far - The Cooler
10. Meeting with a patient - Concussion

Damon:

1. At his arrest - The Informant!
2. The Launch - The Martian
3. Random confession - The Informant!
4. Blowing himself up - The Martian
5. Accusation of harm - The Informant!
6. Telling her the truth - The Adjustment Bureau
7. Asking for a pardon - The Informant!
8. Making the choice - Elysium
9. Meeting the Bureau - The Adjustment Bureau
10. Talking about his parents - The Informant!

Bryan:

The Deer Hunter directed by David McKenzie:

Mike Vronsky: Chris Pine
Nick Chevotervich: Jake Gyllenhaal
Steven Pushkov: Jesse Plemons
Linda: Elizabeth Olsen
John: Paul Walter Hauser
Stosh: Ben Foster
Peter: Danny McBride

Anonymous:

Gangs of New York 1950's directed by George Stevens:

Amsterdam: James Dean
Bill the Butcher: Robert Ryan
Jenny: Gloria Grahame
Boss Tweed: Charles Laughton
Happy Jack: Ernest Borgnine
Monk McGinn: Pat O'Brien
Priest Vallon: Victor McLaglen

A Few Good Men 1960's directed by Sidney Lumet:

Lt. Kaffee: Steve McQueen
Lt. Galloway: Joanne Woodward
Captain Ross: Christopher Plummer
Lt. Weinberg: Peter Falk
Col. Markinson: Edmond O'Brien
Col. Jessup: Fred MacMurray

Louis Morgan said...

The Aviator 1980's directed by Francis Ford Coppola:

Howard Hughes: Mel Gibson
Katherine Hepburn: Marisa Berenson
Ava Gardner: Rene Russo
Juan Trippe: Jon Voight
Senator Brewster: Burt Lancaster
Professor Fitz: Cyril Cusack
Errol Flynn: Liam Neeson
Noah Dietrich: John Lithgow

Anonymous:

Robert E. Sherwood

Robert:

I think they are very much on the border though I lean supporting due to the opening, which includes multiple perspectives, the sort of the "general populace" scenes which are in neither Khruschev's nor Beria's perspectives, or in the way the group sequences don't always favor a specific perspective. I could switch though.

Tahmeed:

Nolan:

1. Bank Robbery - The Dark Knight
2. Farrier to the rescue - Dunkirk
3. Final revelations - Memento
4. The transported man revealed - The Prestige
5. Hallway fight - Inception
6. Trying to board - Dunkirk
7. Messages from Home - Interstellar
8. Game of Chicken - The Dark Knight
9. Failed water tank trick - The Prestige
10. Home - Dunkirk

Fincher:

1. The Basement - Zodiac
2. "Hurdy Gurdy Man" both times - Zodiac
3. "DETECTIVE!!! You're looking for me" - Seven
4. Sloth - Seven
5. Royal Regatta - The Social Network
6. The Box - Seven
7. Confrontation - The Social Network
8. The beach - Zodiac
9. The Minimum Amount - The Social Network
10. Strange caller - Zodiac

Anonymous:

Jim Sturgess for Kyle Rayner, Mark Wahlberg for Guy Gardner (Going FULL Dignam) and I'd be fine with Mark Strong reprising the role honestly.

Luke:

Yes, I haven't re-watched it.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Even though you've already seen it, could you review Cagney's performance in The Public Enemy? I feel that's a performance that should be reviewed since it's basically his breakout role.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on Disraeli, They Won't Forget and Drums Along the Mohawk as missed opportunities.

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Could Wahlberg go up for The Departed.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Have you seen any of the Jason Bourne films?

Tahmeed Chowdhury said...

Louis: Thoughts on the Silicon Valley season 5 premiere.

Alex Marqués said...

How can anyone make a "best directed scenes" list for Fincher that doesn't include the Facemash sequence?

Michael McCarthy said...

Just saw Unsane. I do have to give credit to Soderbergh for being more daring than usual in terms of both cinematic techniques and subject matter, and it definitely left a stronger emotional impact on me than a lot of his recent films. On the other hand, the film is let down a bit by a few underwhelming performances, as well as a slightly muddled overall statement on proper mental health treatment.

Foy: 4.5
Leonard: 1.5
Pharaoh: 4
Temple: 2
Irving: 3

There’s also a “surprise” cameo that’s not terrible but completely unnecessary.

Bryan L said...

Anyone here catch the pilot of "Barry", which aired after the Silicon Valley season premiere? If so, thoughts?

Michael McCarthy said...

Bryan: As soon as I get HBO access that’s the first thing I’m gonna watch.

Mitchell Murray said...

Has anybody seen the "Kodachrome" trailer? Its a new netflix film that looks intriguing, mainly on its promise of strong late career work from Ed Harris.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I saw Unsane as well, and more or less agree with Michael's cast ratings. As for the film itself, I... honestly don't know how I feel. The iPhone thing only works half the time, and its plotting is predictable. But at the same time, the commentary on certain topics (specifically toxic masculinity) was admittedly fascinating, even if the actor chose to epitomize it was weak.

Anonymous said...

While we are getting 1957 first, I think that the 1940 bonus rounds for Best Actor could be composed of 10 slots.

Anton Walbrook (Gaslight)
Charles Boyer (All This, and Heaven Too)
Clark Gable (Strange Cargo)
Edward G. Robinson (Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet)
Fred MacMurray (Remember the Night)
James Cagney (City for Conquest)
Ray Milland (Arise, My Love)
Rex Harrison (Night Train to Munich)
Spencer Tracy (Edison, The Man)
William Powell (I Love You Again)

Luke Higham said...

2007 Lead Actor
Safary - Taare Zameen Par
Gosling - Lars And The Real Girl
Riley - Control
Shannon - Bug
Shannon - Shotgun Stories
Amalric - The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Jackson - Black Snake Moan
Markovics - The Counterfeiters
Leung Chiu Wai - Lust, Caution
Cheadle - Talk To Me or Asano - Mongol

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Maybe.

Anonymous:

As I mentioned with my "film thoughts" the period of history in the British government involving Disraeli is rather juicy however the film wastes that.

They Won't Forget just has the material of the story of this murder mystery, and lynching, but it wastes in its aimless narrative that plays basically as a series of extreme moments. The final moments should be haunting yet they feel wasted.

Drum Along the Mohawk feels like a particular waste just because Ford could have easily made a much better film himself yet it feels like a particularly phoned in effort. Also just as a personal interest I'm still waiting for a masterpiece about the American Revolution.

Tahmeed:

Slightly.

The episode was fine but it is doing a lot of wheel turning to the point it feels like a greatest hits at times. Too many similair situations going on. I will say the one really "new" element with Jian Yang's subplot didn't really work for me either, as I feel he's a one note character who really has failed to evolve and now has overstayed his welcome. I still enjoyed it, as the character are always fun to see interact, or just for Gavin Belson to do his thing, but I wish Mike Judge would find a place to take the plot.

Anonymous:

No.

Alex:

I found a way.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Many accomplished actors rarely gets 5 stars but Jean Claude Van Damme, who can only be interpreted as a joke in acting, gets 5 stars... Poor Sean Penn, Jack Nicholson, Alec Guinnes... They had better performances with less than 5 stars but hey Jean Claude Van Damme is an acting god! :D