Review: Mesrine – L’instinct de mort

There are so few bonafide movie stars these days. These are actors that can light up the screen in such a way that even in a highly stylized and kinetic motion picture about an infamous personality, all eyes are riveted on the curve of the mouth or the lift of a brow of the player: Insouciance is celebrated. Vincent Cassel is certainly one of those actors. Whether he is hamming it up in the all star Ocean’s movies (or the goofy Sheitan) or turning into a monster in Irreversible or La Haine. Few stars of Cassel‘s caliber can go from the charm and sex appeal of Warren Beatty to the pure motherfucker-ness Charles Bronson to full on nutter of Jack Nicholson. And director Jean-François Richet allows for all of the above in Public Enemy Number One (Part One). While we get little real insight into one of Frances most notorious criminals, Jacques Mesrine, what we do get is one of the most snappy crime thrillers in quite some time. The stylish presentation and driving narrative do not let up. The film asks you to root, cheer, and laugh for a truly despicable human being, and with its stars charm and menace at the helm, you might just find yourself doing so. Yes, in a the strangest of ways this is a good thing.

North American’s likely know Jean-François Richet from his remake of John Carpenter’s Assault in Precinct 13, but that somewhat forgettable film cannot adequately prepare for the mastery on display in the construction of Public Enemy Number One. Visually echoing the styles of Michael Mann and Brian DePalma, Richet makes the most of split screens, changing film stocks, Ken Burns effects, extreme close-ups and when necessary, precise, static long shots. The opening credits of the film set the tone in the form of multiple versions of Vincent Cassel and Ludivine Sagnier on screen, simultaneous yet different angles and slightly off in timing via a masterful use of split screen. This is the stuff perfect introduction on what the film is going to be, slick glossy and commercial, yet not at the expense of edgy filmmaking. There is something going on: a bomb, a bank heist, the feel is familiar, the cinematic grammar an obvious telltale. But things are cranked up a bit further than your run-of-the-mill thriller. It feels like the film is taking the first step crossing a busy and wide street, knowing that only centimeters away is fast moving death on wheels. That feeling never really goes away over the course of the film, making the 2 hour run time feel like mere minutes. The viewer is asked to watch some pretty grisly stuff, not the least of it being a bit of tense marital gun fellatio. The first part of the film which resembles a good old fashioned gangster yarn in the vein of Scarface of The Godfather, to the second half which fuses a terrorism biopic with Bonnie and Clyde. The two fuse together neatly while chronicling the first dozen years of the stranger personal and professional life of Jacques Mesrine from his time doing hoodlum stuff on the streets of Paris in the 1950s to the full blown crime spree in Quebec in the 1960s which culminates in a full frontal prison assault of all things. As a Canadian, it was curious to get the French take on the Canadian prison system, if the film does nothing else, it is a good adviser against committing felonies in Montreal. The opening credits of the film have a disclaimer that belongs in front of every biopic ever made. Something along the lines that this film isn’t truth, or history, but a artistic and commercial point of view. Truth is in the eye of the filmmakers. Not since The Untouchables has this type of filmmaking been realized so bloody well. Excising much of the stories intimate drama or Oscar-bait histrionics, and relying on the magnetism of Vincent Cassel’s charisma to grab the audience in between bullets, chases and macho posturing, Public Enemy Number One is a bloody shiv, broken off at the handle and shoved in hard by a smiling, crazy, and charming superstar in his prime. Bring on Part Two please.

This review was originally posted during our TIFF 2008 coverage. The title of the film was originally Public Enemy Number One (part 1) with an at the time, unreleased sequel. At Fantasia 2010 you have the chance to see both Mesrine : L’instinct de mort and Mesrine : L’ennemi public n°1.

TIFF 08 Review: Public Enemy Number One (part 1)

Public Enemy Movie Still

There are so few bonafide movie stars these days. These are actors that can light up the screen in such a way that even in a highly stylized and kinetic motion picture about an infamous personality, all eyes are riveted on the curve of the mouth or the lift of a brow of the player: Insouciance is celebrated. Vincent Cassel is certainly one of those actors. Whether he is hamming it up in the all star Ocean’s movies (or the goofy Sheitan) or turning into a monster in Irreversible or La Haine. Few stars of Cassel‘s caliber can go from the charm and sex appeal of Warren Beatty to the pure motherfucker-ness Charles Bronson to full on nutter of Jack Nicholson. And director Jean-François Richet allows for all of the above in Public Enemy Number One (Part One). While we get little real insight into one of Frances most notorious criminals, Jacques Mesrine, what we do get is one of the most snappy crime thrillers in quite some time. The stylish presentation and driving narrative do not let up. The film asks you to root, cheer, and laugh for a truly despicable human being, and with its stars charm and menace at the helm, you might just find yourself doing so. Yes, in a the strangest of ways this is a good thing.

North American’s likely know Jean-François Richet from his remake of John Carpenter’s Assault in Precinct 13, but that somewhat forgettable film cannot adequately prepare for the mastery on display in the construction of Public Enemy Number One. Visually echoing the styles of Michael Mann and Brian DePalma, Richet makes the most of split screens, changing film stocks, Ken Burns effects, extreme close-ups and when necessary, precise, static long shots. The opening credits of the film set the tone in the form of multiple versions of Vincent Cassel and Ludivine Sagnier on screen, simultaneous yet different angles and slightly off in timing via a masterful use of split screen. This is the stuff perfect introduction on what the film is going to be, slick glossy and commercial, yet not at the expense of edgy filmmaking. There is something going on: a bomb, a bank heist, the feel is familiar, the cinematic grammar an obvious telltale. But things are cranked up a bit further than your run-of-the-mill thriller. It feels like the film is taking the first step crossing a busy and wide street, knowing that only centimeters away is fast moving death on wheels. That feeling never really goes away over the course of the film, making the 2 hour run time feel like mere minutes. The viewer is asked to watch some pretty grisly stuff, not the least of it being a bit of tense marital gun fellatio. The first part of the film which resembles a good old fashioned gangster yarn in the vein of Scarface of The Godfather, to the second half which fuses a terrorism biopic with Bonnie and Clyde. The two fuse together neatly while chronicling the first dozen years of the stranger personal and professional life of Jacques Mesrine from his time doing hoodlum stuff on the streets of Paris in the 1950s to the full blown crime spree in Quebec in the 1960s which culminates in a full frontal prison assault of all things. As a Canadian, it was curious to get the French take on the Canadian prison system, if the film does nothing else, it is a good adviser against committing felonies in Montreal. The opening credits of the film have a disclaimer that belongs in front of every biopic ever made. Something along the lines that this film isn’t truth, or history, but a artistic and commercial point of view. Truth is in the eye of the filmmakers. Not since The Untouchables has this type of filmmaking been realized so bloody well. Excising much of the stories intimate drama or Oscar-bait histrionics, and relying on the magnetism of Vincent Cassel’s charisma to grab the audience in between bullets, chases and macho posturing, Public Enemy Number One is a bloody shiv, broken off at the handle and shoved in hard by a smiling, crazy, and charming superstar in his prime. Bring on Part Two please.

TIFF 08 Review: Jerichow

Jerichow Movie Still

Coming into Christian Petzold’s rural neo-noir, it might be helpful to have an understanding of the films that he is aiming to re-create. Like his previous film, Yella, which played with the conventions of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge in the context of modern Germany, Jerichow (presumably named after the town where the film is set) teases audience expectations with their own knowledge of the rich history of noir cinema. Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice even The Last Seduction are bound to guide and confound where the plot is (or should) be going. That Petzold lingers, drops red herrings and shifts audience loyalty between the three characters is one of the joys of the piece. While in the end it comes across a bit more like precise clock work than a living, breathing simulacrum is a bit frustrating however.

Thomas, recently discharged (dishonorably) from the German army is relieved of his discharge funds from his alienated friends, to whom he owes a large sum of money. Broke, with the financial means of renovating the decrepit family home completely evaporated (along with his friends), he is only barely getting by with unemployment office posted jobs. Things take a decided turn when he encounters Ali, a well off owner of a series of falafel huts, with a penchant for drinking and driving. After finding Ali and his Range Rover in the Elbe River, he lies to the police about who was driving. This leads to Thomas getting gainful employment as a driver for Ali as he collects from all his shops. Ali, a wealthy self made Turkish immigrant, doesn’t trust anyone, and Thomas physical presence comes in handy for keeping his shifty franchisees in line. Thomas quickly becomes close to both Ali and his gorgeous German wife, played exquisitely by the über talented Nina Hoss (one of the best (and beautiful) actresses currently working in German cinema). See where the film is going? Perhaps you do. Maybe not.

The trio of performances are pitch perfect insofar as they are both skin deep and subtly vague. Thomas (played by the flexible Benno Fürmann) is a blank slate, smart enough, and watching, he still has some elements of the classic patsy, his posture hints at cockiness although it may just be aloofness or stoicism. Hoss is cool, sexy, desperate and perhaps not as bright as she lets on. Ali (Himli Sözer) is a fireball of suspicion, arrogance, calculation and yet somehow, his immigrant/outsider status offers an interesting form of sympathy. The film as the tiniest morsel to say about how easily money (or lust) compromises trust an where exactly the line between temptation and entrapment lies. But mainly the film lets the actors bump and grind along, against the varied backgrounds of the town shops, verdant countryside and empty beaches. The pacing and construction create comforting notion (perhaps a smugness) of where the film is headed before yielding a twist that is not a twist. In the end, it is a fun and interesting ride, but less revolutionary or re-inventing than it is simply a flippant riff on the genre.

TIFF 08 Review: Pontypool

Now that Don LaFontaine is narrating trailers for the big guy in heaven, I would like to nominate actor Stephen McHattie as the logical successor to the phrase, “In a World, where…” Bruce McDonald’s latest film takes the omnipresent zombie subgenre and turns it on its ear (literally). Yes, ladies and gents, this is the first ‘talk radio’ zombie picture, a film in which so little is actually shown on screen, the viewer is left questioning (for much of the films runtime) whether or not the attacks are even real. Violence and intestine pulling gore are replaced with a plethora of science fiction and social ideas which are very much to the pictures benefit. Like Vincenzo Natali’s single room sci-fi/horror picture Cube, keeping the visuals to a minimum lets the minds eye soar with the strange questions and possibilities raised here. What communication mechanisms case raving mobs to spontaneously form? What is the difference between hearing and understanding? Is language itself a virus? Can talk radio save the world or is it really the pestilence? That the titular Pontypool (besides being a small Ontario town, is itself an interesting linguistic confection) wears its brains on its sleeve, in no way makes it less of a thriller, or for that matter, a great actor showcase (McHattie tears up the screen). Bruce McDonald and screenwriter Tony Burgess surprisingly inject a lot of playfulness along the way. As genre flicks go, Pontypool is the full package deal.
Morning radio personality Grant Mazzy is having a bad month. His career from Toronto radio personality has been diminished to broadcasting small town radio from the basement of a church; a task he makes bearable by thinly veiled sarcasm and small town mockery. His producer wants him to talk about school closings and traffic hick-ups. He wants drama a controversy. With a three person crew running Pontypool’s “The Beacon,” there is already a fair bit of tension in the room. The level rises significantly when reports start coming in of some sort of mob attacks. The traffic reporter confirms that there is indeed a mob attacking the local psychiatrists office, and there is much blood and murder on the scene. Not your average day in Pontypool. While Grant, more than a bit of an egotist, at first thinks the locals are playing a practical joke, when calls from the BBC start coming in asking for details (they think it is a French separatist terrorist attack), he begins to believe that he is nearly at ground zero of a major story. Determined to keep broadcasting even when the infected come up to the front door, The Beacon is pretty much the radio broadcast that the characters in every other zombie flick tune into for a little it of exposition. But what if the language itself is spreading the disease?

When the camera pans across a random desk in The Beacon’s recording studio, where a copy of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash is prominently displayed, that is the clincher. The film is going to bounce a few ideas regarding science and philosophy of communication amongst the zombie apocalypse. A lot of the headier stuff comes from a certain psychiatrist who pops in and out of the radio station, Guerrilla style, not unlike Robert DeNiro in Brazil. Some may see this as a bit of a handicap to the film, but things are as much about babble (note the mangled ‘rural Ontario’ French) as they are about communication. The mumbled pontifications (pontifications? Pontypool?) of Dr. Mendez, probably a fan of the The Leiden School, who believes that languages are a form of benign parasite in the brain (this being a horror picture, what if they weren’t so benign). Seeing someone start to lose their ability to speak, in the form of a babbling breakdown, is as creepy as losing sight, hearing or going numb, and this is milked quite effectively here. As the film runs its course, the balance of engaging ideas, chills, thrills and even laughs make this one of the more effective genre-mashing films (and it is Canadian no less) to come along in a while. Highly recommended.

**Note: When this movie winds its way into the cinema, be sure to stay until the end credits for a fun non-sequitur credit cookie. Something which I am nearly sure takes place in the Metaverse, Neil Stephenson’s full-immersion virtual reality world.**

TIFF 08 Review: Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York

You are reading this because you want to know if Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is a good film, and perhaps you want me to compare and contrast it with the great screenplays he has written, and hopefully in the process provide a categorical frame to this new commodity. What must a press screening of such a film look like, what sort of deadening halt could be felt, to pens and paper, to stillborn thoughts, as the anarchy of Kaufman’s imagination marched mercilessly through its two hours? What language other than the poetic can one even begin to articulate the activity of that fugue?

Rest assured, this ‘review’ will not give away anything, for it would be as pointless as describing a blob of colour carefully set within a Monet landscape, or quoting a line from a Beckett play, the activity of this story is one of patterns. It may take your mind an hour or two, or even days to adjust to the pattern recognition required to make sense of what Kaufman is doing with this story. So is the possible genius of the work; I’m still uncertain what happened, what I even feel about it. The dense narrative works not in scenes, nor arcs, nor traditional transitions, but everything both real and unreal, past, present and future coming together on the same cosmic stage. I was unable to understand it in the fashion I am accustom to, but after awhile the pervading ideas and emotions emerged like one of those 3-D illusions, the dissociative details forming a lived-in impression of loneliness, heartache, and death. The Russian doll ellipses, apparently random tangents, and gaping time lapses, provide just the right amount of disorientation to evoke the revelation, to have the sadness of life creep up on you and inhabit you.

As the synapses fire blanks, a new seeing emerges, the seeing not of characters and story on a separate stage from us but as us, surveyors of our own lives, inhabitants of insecurities and absurdities that brush shoulders with one another in unscripted indecencies, all loose ends that are felt beyond the academic rigor of existentialism or the theatre of the absurd. As characters in the film perceive fictionalizations of themselves we perceive the characters, and perceive ourselves watching the characters. As the puzzle of perception unfolds, deeper and deeper into the time lapse, any remnant of analytical thought is exhausted by the onslaught of highly stylized quasi-subconscious details that run through, and in the flurry of all these simultaneous assaults on the mind, one either tunes out or tunes in to a whole new wavelength.

The originality of the film is staggering, even by Kaufman standards. Its unparalleled sophistication of storytelling is something only a Beckett or Kafka could imagine, not even Lynch, I suspect, could have the patience for this well-laid detonation of meaning. Kaufman’s directorial debut is aggressively auteur, it is, as Cameron Bailey noted in his introduction to the film, the purest distillation yet of the mind of Charlie Kaufman.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is a theater director whose ambition to capture the true meaning of life escalates into citywide sets of thousands of actors all on his cue. This review is now over.

TIFF 08 Review: The Wrestler

The Wrestler Movie StillThe prints of Darren Aronofsky’s new film, The Wrestler, have barely dried (or what is the digital equivalent?) and already it has won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival and is on its way, possibly, to the Peoples Choice Award at Toronto. After the emotional and visual epic of The Fountain, the director has scaled the scope of his new film down to about as intimate as one can get (this sentence is amusing in and of itself considering the subject matter is Pro Wrestling). There are essentially three characters in the film, the stylistic tics are kept to a subtle minimum and the actors are simply allowed to perform. At the packed pubic afternoon screening in Toronto, Aronofsky, who was on hand to introduce the film, kept the words to a minimum saying simply all one needs to make a good film is a lens and good performers and that is what he has done here, due largely to a career high from Mickey Rourke. Rourke himself has seen enough trials and tribulations over his acting/boxing career that much of the weathering is quite naturally etched on his face and skin. Fulfilling the promise of his work in the 1980s (Johnny Handsome, Barfly) that was squandered with personal problems and junk-cinema starting with Wild Orchid and throughout the 1990s. While he made a fair bit of a splash covered in make-up and acting against digital backdrops in the testosterone-noir of Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City (and for that matter, shines amongst the equally bombastic Domino), here he is given a role that allows for a gamut of emotions in a rich, patient bit of intimate storytelling. The actor has never shone brighter than here. But The Wrestler is no ‘comeback’ sports story. Rourke’s take on the public and private life of a (fictional) professional wrestler, 20 years past his prime yet still grinding it out in gutter venues, despite the protestation of an aging body, is a warm, generous, and sad portrayal. Likewise, Marissa Tomei, in a rich supporting role, continues to prove that she is one of the most talented actresses working today. Going as the stripper with the heart of gold is about as rote and cliché as one can get, but Tomei realizes her character as a full fleshed role, all the while being mostly naked up on screen. Yes, The Wrestler deserves every bit of praise it is garnering. Those worried that The Fountain (despite its cult audience) may have been a career killer, worry no more.

The Wrestler poses one of the most fundamental questions: what do you do when your entire purpose of being has been stripped away? Will you keep on keeping on even though it is now the mere shadow of past glories even if continuing is painful, potentially humiliating, and likely fatal? What is the cost of comforting over the difficult struggle into unknown territory? The story follows Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, who, back in the 1980s wrestling boom, was one of the biggest names in the business. Headlining massive stadium shows, Nintendo wrestling games designed on him, and all the fan worship he could handle (note to fans of great opening credit sequences, the information and mood are elegantly set in a scrapbook fashion here). But bad choices and tough breaks (perhaps the nature of the business, chewing up and spitting out the athletes while the money flows to the suits) and the inexorable passage of time has left him living in a hovel of a trailer park (where even still he has trouble making rent), wrestling on the lowest of professional circuits for pennies, and having work a day job stocking shelves during the week. Along the way he has a daughter, one he has neglected over the years (the mother is never mentioned). While he neglects his life, he is actually quite disciplined about his profession, even practicing it at the bottom of the food chain, a day in the life showing him making visits to his steroid and pharmaceutical provider, a trip to the hair dresser for blond highlights, an hour on the tanning bed and a solid gym work out. All this attention to the body, which then gets put through the meat grinder during the bloody matches in the ring where broken glass, razor wire, and other blunt paraphernalia are then used to smash and abuse the same flesh to appease the bloodlust of a hardcore crowd. His evenings are spent in bars and strip clubs where he has an almost-relationship with one of the long-time strippers, Cassidy (aka Pam) her own struggle with age impinging on the practice of her trade, she is old enough to be sent out of the VIP room by a horny bachelor party that is looking for someone younger. Much like The Ram, she seems to be more or less holding up, but her ‘glory days’ are well past her.

After a serious medical issue, the doctors are pretty explicit with him that his wrestling career is over. The Ram’s struggle to adjust to real life is the center of the film. A day job at (of all things) a meat counter, reconnecting with his 20 something daughter. Scenes spent first shopping for a gift for his daughter with Pam and later a pleasant afternoon with said daughter is the stuff of great emotional cinema. But despite being a pretty likable guy (he’s great with the kiddies), Robin Robinson (his real name), who even manages to excel in customer service at the meat counter, there is a lot of baggage that makes the shift to the real world a very difficult one. You can’t help but shed a tear for this guys problems, as the film really doesn’t dwell on Robinson’s ‘asshole’ years. An easy way out? Perhaps, but the rest of the story does speak for itself quite well. Finally a movie that knows the exact right place to end without glad-handling its audience with unnecessary extended endings. The film itself is a denouement to a story of universal resonance.

It was nice to see, like the director is telling a smaller story, that his regular composer, Clint Mansell has scored the film in an equally subdued manner. Most cinema goers are familiar to the point of irritation with his Requiem for a Dream score, which despite being a marvel of modulated assault (much like the film for which it provides the soundtrack) seems to be the muzak for every other science fiction and action film that has came afterwards. His Fountain score is equally operatic, but here he lets 80s stadium rock (as easy to please and skin deep as Pro Wrestling) do most of the musical heavy lifting. The film is even dedicated, of all people, to Axl Rose.

The Wrestler is built kind of like the sport that it is set in. The story is familiar, a bit shop-worn, even contrived, and perhaps a bit faked. While things are playing out on screen, it archives a genuine emotional workout: the best kind of cinematic magic. The film is a weepy and a crowd- pleaser in the best sense of both of those terms. It is a a solid and accomplished work which shows a talented filmmaker at the pinnacle of his career. While it may or may not do any favours to legitimize the modern cartoon that is WWE, it is a strangely positive love-letter to the sport (witness the charming ‘shop talk’ in the Wrestlers greenroom) and those who grind themselves away practitioning it

TIFF 08 Review: The Burrowers

The Burrowers

JT Petty’s The Burrowers really should be a bit better than it actually is. The idea of combining the western and horror genres is quite intriguing and Petty has a good basis for a strong movie but unfortunately he falls a bit short with its implementation. Many times throughout the week I have heard over and over how The Burrowers takes The Searchers and combines it with Tremors. While this comparison is true at the most basis level it really does not live up to such comparisons.

When making a comparison with The Searchers one can not help but think of John Wayne’s bigoted cowboy. In The Burrowers instead of having the main hero be an anti hero we meet a violent racist captain in the army. In many ways this takes an interesting concept and waters it down to the point of being forgettable. What JT Petty should have done was to have at least one of the three main cowboys, Coffey (Karl Geary), Parcher (William Mapother) or the rancher (Clancy Brown) take on a similar role to that of John Wayne in The Searchers.

The other comparison has been with the movie Tremors. This comparison can really only be made because the monsters of both movies travel under the ground. When you make this comparison you are not giving enough credit to Tremors good sense of humour as the humour is sorely lacking here. The Burrowers is not meant to be a light fun horror movie. It is quite dark and I do not see this necessarily as a negative but when the comparison is made then the expectation will be there.

While it may sound like I am being fairly harsh on this movie it is only because of the comparisons which have been constantly made. The Burrowers has some very good points that should allow me to recommend it. It is a beautifully shot movie and does not fall into the trap that some westerns do when they linger just too long on the horizon and scenery shots. The acting is top notch from everyone involved. The premise of the movie is very interesting and finally the special effects are top notch as it relies on a combination of both practical and CGI effects.

Overall though there is nothing too memorable about Petty’s The Burrowers but on the other hand you could do a lot worse. With a few changes to the characters and a little bit more delving into the racial tension The Burrowers would have been an excellent movie. As it is though I would really only recommend this one to die hard fans who would like to see a mixing up of the western and horror genres.

TIFF 08 Review: Krabat

Krabat

It is sometimes hard to review a movie that does everything very well but that just does not connect. The German fable Krabat is one such movie. David Kross is Krabat a young beggar who at the end of the 30 Years war in German answers a call from a dark sorcerer, played by Christian Redl. He is given a chance to be one of the 12 apprentices for the sorcerer. Krabat works hard and is accepted into the ranks and on the night of his initiation he is told by fellow apprentice Tonda, played by Daniel Brühl to leave as everything isn’t as it seems. Also on this night he finds out that Tonda has fallen in love with one of the local village girl and he himself meets a girl and falls for her immediately. Tonda tells him to never let the sorcerer know the girls name as she will be killed by him.

Later that year the sorcerer finds out the name of Tonda’s love and she does indeed die and Tonda decides to leave. Tonda attempts to leave but he is killed before leaving the mill house. Krabat soon discovers that each year the sorcerer trades the life of one of his apprentices to the reaper so that he can remain alive. The remainder of the movie is spent with Krabat seeking a way to escape and to be with the girl he has fallen in love with.

The special effects in Krabat are top notch, the story is a solid fable which will delight and scare young adults and the majority of the acting is fairly strong with the exception of David Kross. He is the weakest link in Krabat and while he is not bad enough to really complain about he didn’t bring much extra to the role. I went in expecting somewhat of a Harry Potter movie and in some ways it felt like it suffered under the same problems which those movies suffer from. The movie is a bit dark in tone but not dark enough for my tastes. When you consider that there are 12 other apprentices plus the sorcerer and 2 love interests there are a few too many characters to really get attached to any of them. The only exception would be Tonda whom I found to be a fairly compelling character and was performed very well by Daniel Brühl.

TIFF 08 Review: JCVD

JCVD

While I was sitting in the theatre today waiting for my next movie to start I was listening to to the people behind me talk about JCVD and Jean Claude Van Damme’s previous movies. Later, after that movie I was browsing the web and I came across a review of JCVD that neatly matched up with the discussion that the audience members were having. The discussion focussed not on JCVD but on what is expected in a Van Damme movie. No one watches his movies for acting the simply watch him for spin kicks. We’ll I have to say that I went into JCVD with the exact opposite intention. I wanted a movie that didn’t rely on his just his kicking skills but instead I wanted a movie that had a point to it while being fun and entertaining and I wanted a chance to see Van Damme actually act.

JCVD opens with an amazing minute or two single shot fight scene which rivals any long take from any action movie. The only thing though is that you know going in that this isn’t going to be your typical Van Damme generic action movie. This is a movie that will poke fun at the whole nature of celebrity, Hollywood and just who Jean Claude actually is. In JCVD everyone refers to Van Damme as Jean Claude so I am going to do likewise. Jean Claude takes aspects of his actual personal life and intertwines it with the story of a bank robbery where everyone naturally assumes that he is the culprit. Jean Claude is having money troubles because of his wanting to complete a real movie and a custody battle over his daughter. He returns to Belgium after a humorous yet extremely heart felt trial where the main case against him is that he kills people in bad movies. Upon his return his money troubles cause him to stop in a bank to receive a wire transfer where he stumbles into the bank robbery. The police immediately believe him to be the one robbing the bank.

The bank robbery is told in 4 parts which jump around in time. The first part we only see what the police see. The second through 4th we get a combined view which pushes forward the story while also giving glimpses of what has lead Jean Claude to this point. For me this is the one real weakness of the movie. The bank robbery started to drag during a few moments while it was repeating the story from a different perspective. There is a lot to like and even love in JCVD though.
Jean Claude is capable of acting. I truly felt sorry for him at several points throughout the movie and I was truly rooting for him not as an action hero but as a real person. He is able to laugh at himself while still remaining a sense of earnestness. There is one scene where he rises up out of the set in order to provide a monologue that is causing a bit of a split in the reviews. People either seem to love it or hate it. You can count me in on the love it side.

JCVD is not a typical Van Damme movie but is much more. It is a Jean Claude movie that will sorely disappoint viewers who are simply looking for a good not direct to DVD Van Damme movie. It will however provide great experience and will even give you something to think about for a while after. Oh and here is one final comment; the ending of JCVD provided the audience with what both the Van Damme fans and also the Jean Claude fans with what they wanted. It was truly a perfect moment when the whole audience erupted with a cheer during the last few moments of the bank robbery.

JCVD is really going to be one of the treasures of TIFF and even if you are not a fan of his action movies it is one you need to check out.