Darkness of Man Review

Jean-Claude Van Damme’s latest is an average action noir, but it’s great to see him front and center, still doing the action himself.

Last Updated on May 22, 2024

Darkness of Man review

PLOT: Russell Hatch an Interpol operative who takes on the role of father figure to Jayden, the son of an informant killed in a routine raid gone wrong.

REVIEW: It’s nothing new for an action star of the past to show up in these lower-budget films. Geezer Teasers have often been a great way for action stars to cash a quick paycheck. But they tend to amount to nothing more than a bit part, while some younger actor does the majority of the action. So I was pleasantly surprised to see Jean-Claude Van Damme not only take center stage but appear in nearly every frame of Darkness of Man. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he’s not taking the easy way out and I respect him for it.

Darkness of Man is structured like a film noir, complete with intense narration from Van Damme. We’re mostly following his character Russell Hatch, as he struggles after the death of an informant, who was also his lover. Taking guardianship of the informant’s son, Jayden, Hatch deals with the repercussions of her death. With the Korean and Russian gangs vying for the same territory, he takes things into his own hands in order to protect, Jayden. It’s pretty stereotypical with its narrative but there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had. Hell, I will always root for JCVD kicking ass in the name of vengeance.

Van Damme has had an interesting latter half of his career. Unlike the other action stars he came up with, who have become very reliant on body doubles for the action bits, Van Damme does a shocking amount of his own stunts still. At 64 years of age, he’s no spring chicken, so his stunt work is all the more impressive. And admittedly, at his age, it’s not quite as crisp as his Bloodsport or Kickboxer days but hell, he moves better than my 33-year-old self. And the filmmakers are smart enough to shoot around his limitations (so no, we’re not getting any trademark splits in this one). At this point, you should know what you’re in for when it comes to his line delivery. You’re either down for it or you’re not.

Jean-Claude Van Damme as “Russell Hatch” in the action film, DARKNESS OF MAN, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

The acting can be a bit rough because most of the starring roles are filled with non-English speakers forced to speak English. Makes for some very awkward exchanges. There are a bunch of recognizable faces that pop up in small roles. I’m an MMA fan so I was shocked to see fighter Nick Diaz, though he probably won’t be winning any acting awards. However, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see him throw down with JCVD. Seems like a missed opportunity. Shannon Doherty also makes an appearance as a concerned mother. It’s nice to see her still working, given her health struggles.

I enjoyed the strange sense of community present at the motel. Characters that don’t seem overly important show their value when Hatch is put in a rough position. Spencer Breslin is almost unrecognizable as Hatch’s druggie neighbor. And I quite enjoyed Kristanna Loken as Hatch’s occasional hookup. It’s a thankless part that she does well with and elevates. But my favorite performance was probably Zack Ward, who only has two scenes but really makes an impact. He feels unhinged and has a great look to him. Had he been more of a major player, it would have greatly improved the film. Because the bad guys don’t really feel like threats, despite their repeated attempts to try and intimidate.

I constantly found myself conflicted because, while the subject matter is intense, the execution leaves a bit to be desired. There are a ton of logical fallacies that break the immersion from moment to moment. A pistol only carrying a few shots before emptied, or characters having absurd invincibility only break the reality further. And, despite death and kidnapping, the stakes don’t really land with intent. The plot is very convoluted, with holes so easy to poke that it made my head spin. This is a “check your brain” at the door kind of movie, while still trying to appeal to your base desire to see a wrong, righted.

[L-R] Andrey Ivchenko as “Lazar” and Jean-Claude Van Dammeas “Russell Hatch” in the actionfilm,DARKNESS OF MAN, a Saban Films release. Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

Despite the very low budget, I really enjoyed the look of Darkness of Man. Setups are handled great and there are some slick shots. I appreciated how grounded the action is, with a nice car flip and even some squibs. In this day and age of constant CGI gunshots, I will always appreciate the more practical approach. Even if it’s not utilized 100% of the time. The second half of the film feels very different from the first half. JCVD goes from old and beaten to John Wick in no time. That’s not to say he doesn’t show skills in the first half, it just gets ramped up to such an absurd degree in the final half. He goes from shooting around people to not murder them, to directly popping off heads. The murder of his girlfriend doesn’t put him into this mindset but a kidnapping does? Felt misguided.

Overall, Darkness of Man didn’t entirely land for me. I really liked Van Damme and the more serious side that he brought. This was clearly more than just a paycheck for him, having developed the story with director James Cullen Bressack. But the narrative itself is so flimsy that it sometimes gets lost. There’s a big twist at the end that feels so pointless, mostly due to all signs pointing in that direction the entire film. It feels like a slap in the face of the audience to even treat it as an “aha!” moment. There are some good moments and this is definitely better than some of the straight-to-DVD schlock we’d see in the bargain bin. JCVD fans should keep an eye out because it’s great to see him truly take the lead again.

DARKNESS OF MAN IS AVAILABLE DIGITALLY ON MAY 21ST, 2024.

BUY/RENT IT HERE!

About the Author

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Tyler Nichols is a horror fanatic who resides in Michigan and is always on the hunt for the next great film. When not scouring the internet for movie news, he is usually off watching something dark, writing nonsensical musings, or playing in some fantastical video game world. While horror takes up most of his time, he still makes time for films of all types, with a certain affinity for the strange and unusual. He’s also an expert on all things Comic Book Cinema. In addition to reviews and interviews here on JoBlo.com, Tyler also helps with JoBlo Horror Originals where he’s constantly trying to convince viewers to give lesser-known horror films a chance.