Jean-Claude Van Damme
Until Death came through gangbusters for its first half mainly due to one reason; Jean Claude Van Damme’s visceral performance. This was “Requiem for a Van Damme” with the lad bravely playing selfish, morose, drug abusing and senselessly violent to a T. His range as a performer has definitely expended since we last saw him and he effortlessly made his co-stars look like bottom of the barrel amateurs (evil and loving it Stephen Rea aside of course). The audio/visual execution at hand also helped Van Damme look good. Some of the ‘artsy light” editing choices were striking, camera moves were often slyly used to echo the lead’s damaged state and I esteemed the lack of music during some of the shoot-outs; it gave the whole a grittier feel.
Alas the flick let me down when it came to its narrative, especially during the second half. The plot/subplots/relationships were either handled in a vague manner (what was really going on here) or they never went far enough to carry much impact. Action wise, for better or worse (you be the judge), JCVD has traded in his famous fighting skills for gun fights in this one. Problem was; director Simon Fellows didn’t fare as well with the physical get-downs as he did with the drama. The action scenes were underwhelming in terms of staging, cutting and energy (or lack of). At least they were brutal and grisly, which kind of made up for their shortcomings. So all in all Until Death was a swell showcase for Van Damme’s ever growing acting chops first and a somewhat compelling character study dipped in ho-hum action bits second.