Darkness Of Man Review

Remember, like, fifteen years ago when Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in the fictional portrayal of his life, JCVD? It was supposed to be a renaissance for the actor where he would start taking more serious roles and begin getting more respect. There was actual, legitimate talk that Van Damme–JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME–could someday be an awards-worthy actor (it’s arguable that he deserved to be awarded for JCVD itself, actually).

Unfortunately, little of that ever materialized. Despite the reverence for JCVD and Mr. Van Damme’s performance in it, he never took the springboard into taking more serious work. He, instead, continued to do direct-to-video action movies that played up what we already knew were his strengths. To be sure, a lot of these post-JCVD roles showcased a more flawed and beaten down protagonist than what we were used to seeing from him, but the films did not substantially stray from the formula.

It’s a shame. I’d still love to see what Van Damme could do in a drama or a comedy where he doesn’t have to worry too much about kicking or shooting his way to success. And I do feel like society’s overall opinion of the once-troubled actor has trended upward because of JCVD, so I think he still has the cache to be able to take such roles.

I’m just not sure how much longer the 63 year old Muscles From Brussels can keep taking roles like Darkness Of Man.

In Darkness Of Man, our aging action star plays a world-weary former cop who has made a promise to a friend days before she ends up murdered. As she knew people were after her, she begged Russell (Van Damme) to care for her son if anything happened to her. Well anything DOES happen to her, and she is killed, so Russell becomes the guardian of the teenage boy.

Russell and Jayden (the aforementioned boy) don’t really tend to get along that well, but Russell is trying. Jayden is getting up to no good as he gets older, and we see him skipping school, spray-painting graffiti, and tossing apartments at the behest of his uncle.

This is all the backdrop to a story about a feud between Russian and Korean gangs in a Little Korea area of a city. Russell’s best attempts at staying in Jayden’s life and keeping him on the straight-and-narrow manage to get him caught up in this rivalry.

And, of course, there is the mystery as to whether Russell will ever catch the people who killed Esther, Jayden’s mother…

TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS

+ Let’s start with the Man Of The [nearly two] Hour[s], Jean-Claude Van Damme himself. It’s still and always a blast to see Van Damme in any movie, even if strictly from a nostalgic front because I used to watch so much of his work back in the 1990’s! But aside from that, in a world after JCVD, it’s always a bit of a curiosity to see what roles he is taking.

Here, he is a bit too old to be spin-kicking evil to death, but he still throws punches and fires a gun with the best of them. He also has a narration over the movie that gives the whole project a very noir feel. It adds a bit of gravitas to the film and makes it seem a little deeper and darker.

+ The director, James Cullen Bressack pulls one of my favorite techniques from his bag of tricks and gives us a few different extended uncut takes. None are amazingly long, and some are just tracking shots as someone walks to a new destination, but I always appreciate the effort.

The most noteworthy one here is shot from the backseat of a car, as Jayden is inside watching Russell fight thugs outside. The point of view circles inside the car as Russell makes his way around the vehicle during the fight. This both creates a seamless action sequence and hides some of the faults in Van Damme’s ability to perform such scenes at his age by placing the viewer behind the dashboard and what-have-you.

– In no reality did this movie need to be 110 minutes long. It drags and meanders its way around the plot, and there are characters like Russell’s pseudo-love interest Claire who add nothing of value to the film. They just take up more time. She plays virtually the same role as Russell’s whacky drug-dealer neighbor, except we see her dancing around in her underwear at one point.

This movie could certainly have done with some solid editing to get it down to ninety minutes. At its actual length, it just spends too much time being boring and feeling like its stalling for a longer runtime.

– I hit a lot of my Downs in one right up there. The length. The extraneous characters. The sense of boredom the flick inspired in me. I feel like I’m cheating and giving way more than two Downs.

But that’s okay because I do have another!

While they do get better as the picture goes on, the early fight sequences are very choppy and slow-paced. They don’t seem particularly inspired at all, especially given this is mostly an action movie! Action-noir, sure, but… mostly action.

OVERALL

Unfortunately, my love for Van Damme aside, this was not an effort I was too enamored with. The runtime really dooms this film because it creates such a sense of stalling, and only a few of the action set pieces really deliver, and those are the one-take shots. Jean-Claude is legitimately trying here with his noir narration and beaten-down character work, but it really doesn’t feel like the film is even trying to meet him halfway.

★ out of 5

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