“JCVD” is not the typical high action, low budget, straight-to-DVD, movie we’ve all come to expect from Jean-Claude Van Damme. In fact, with the exception of one of the greatest credit sequences in movie history, JCVD doesn’t deliver much in the karate department. But what the movie lacks in martial arts, it more than makes up for in cinematic arts. This isn’t an action flick, it’s a moving and intimate portrayal of an actor turned industry joke. During Van Damme’s 25 year career in Hollywood, he has been consistently typecast, labeled a one-trick pony and found himself at the center of drug and relationship scandals. Jean-Claude Van Damme could have easily rectified his problems with karate chops, but in JCVD he faces all of the criticisms without resorting to violence, and in the process displays more vulnerability and humanity than any other actor in Hollywood to date.
Here’s the plot: after losing a messy custody battle with his ex-wife, not to mention losing a movie role to Steven Seagal, Van Damme heads back to Belgium to get his life in order and to get back in touch with his roots. Upon arriving in Belgium, tired and out of money, Van Damme heads over to the local bank to retrieve a wire transfer, but the bank has been taken over by three gun wielding maniacs. When the police mistakenly pin the whole mess on Jean-Claude, he soon becomes intrinsically wrapped up in the robbery. Jean-Claude Van Damme finds himself in a familiar predicament, but this time it’s real life and his Hollywood training can’t save him.
I know that this all seems like the perfect formula for action but as it turns out, it’s actually the perfect formula for exposing the human flaws within Jean-Claude Van Damme. Between the scenes inside and outside the bank, there are vignettes which reflect JCVD’s deteriorating situation. These scenes expose his failed marriage, the rocky relationship with his daughter, and his ailing movie career. Once all of these elements come together, why JCVD doesn’t simply clobber the bad guys is understandable; he’s no action hero, he’s just a has been and he knows it. So he doesn’t save the day with extreme prejudice, instead he does like all of the other hostages and obeys commands in order to walk out alive.
If this all sounds a bit too touchy-feely, well, I guess it is. Sure, there’s plenty of action and excitement too, but when all of those aspects are forgotten, what you will remember about this movie comes in at about the 1 hour mark: at this point the camera locks in on JCVD and the movie stops. JCVD is lifted out of the scene and then he delivers one of the most stirring monologues I’ve ever heard. In this five minute monologue JCVD confronts the criticisms that have plagued his career, taking responsibility and showing true remorse and character. I don’t want to give too much away, but by the end of the scene JCVD cries, and then you cry. When this scene comes, don’t fight back the tears. Let them come naturally (they will come) so that you and JCVD can share this moment together.
As JCVD Appreciation Week draws to a close I can’t think of a better movie to end it with. Whether you love or hate JCVD, after seeing this movie I guarantee you are bound to walk away with a better appreciation of the man, and his movies.
I give JCVD: Custody of my heart