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JCVD

Year: 2008
Production Co: Samsa Film
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Writer: Mabrouk El Mechri/Frédéric Benudis
Cast: Jean Claude Van Damme

Mike Tyson is doing it right now in a documentary, but Jean Claude Van Damme did it first in a fictional account of his life crumbling. Though neither Tyson nor Van Damme created their respective tell-alls, both are brave for taking part, and because Australian audiences haven't seen James Toback's Tyson yet we can't judge whether it's as brutally cutting as JCVD is to it's star and former Hollywood golden boy.

It's over fifteen years since his star shone in Hollywood, and action movie actor JCVD (van Damme, playing himself but sort-of-not in an avant-garde, Felliniesque kind of way) is a man nearing rock bottom as he fights against both huge tax losses and his former wife for custody of their daughter.

Broken and defeated, JCVD leaves America to return to his native Brussels to get on with his life, but during a routine visit to the post office it all goes very wrong as robbers have already locked the place down and they're only too glad to take an international movie star hostage.

It sounds like it could be an American-style action movie in itself, but JCVD is made with a far more European spirit, in everything from the broken structure that backtracks to reveal more of the truth to the ruminations by the hero on the failure his life has become. His spiritual implosion running parallel to a post office robbery and hostage drama is strange, but somehow it works.

There are lots of moments of wry humour, like the awful realisation that producers are so unwilling to work with him they've even bypassing him for Stephen Seagal, but a lot more of wry humanity. You can almost see tears brimming for most of the movie, and when they do in a bizarre (but not entirely unwelcome) dream-like sequence, it's heartbreaking.

Not every scene will grip you, but it's one of the most interestingly structured and crafted films of the year, and because of both the premise and the execution, stands very much on its own.

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