Like the rest of the directorial credits of Julien Leclercq, The Bouncer (also known as Lukas) is set in a gritty, urban, almost noir-esque world. The settings and storylines focus on the downtrodden and the ignored, and this film is no different.
What is different is to see Jean Claude Van Damme in this world. This film is unlike the colorful action extravaganzas an audience has come to expect from Van Damme.
It is a far cry from films like Universal Soldier, Street Fighter or the ‘amazing’ Double Team. More recently, Van Damme has become known for a more meta-type of film/TV, by playing himself in JCVD, or a slightly more humorous version of himself in the TV series Jean Claude Van Johnson.
What he isn’t known for is a gritty, down to earth French film, which The Bouncer tries to present itself as.
The first time combination of Leclercq with Jérémie Guez was influenced by the gritty, down to earth style of French urban cinema from the last few decades, with hints of Le Haine (1995) and Un Prophète (2009) to name but a few, permeating through The Bouncer.
Over the shoulder camera angles allows the audience to feel central to the action, part of the fight scenes and linked emotionally to central characters.
The film almost tries too hard to replicate this style, slowing down the storyline, limiting dialogue and focusing on emotional closeups of Van Damme. So much so, that it is no longer an action film, but becomes a drama with a few fight scenes thrown in.
It is an exploration of the character of Lukas and what he has to put himself and his daughter through to survive day to day, after the death of his wife.
In some ways, this approach works. The less dialogue there is for Van Damme, the more realistic and true to life the film feels. He is the strong, silent type; putting his body on the line to provide for his family. Van Damme’s expressive face and lingering stares only serve to support these aspects of his character.
The music supports the urban and gritty feel with thumping beats and emotional notes holding the attention of the audience. The compositions supporting the scenes within the film maintains the focus of the audience and fits almost like Lukas’ heartbeat through the story.
All of these aesthetic attempts to make the film higher-brow don’t always pay off. Van Damme front and center in the advertisement sells the film a certain way. It provides certain expectations to its audience.
Having Van Damme, front and center make implications that the film itself attempts to overcome. In itself, there is an inherent battle in the mind of the viewer as to what this film is, and this battle is not solved with any sufficiency by the climax.
There are elements of a Van Damme film: his protection and attempted rescue of the women who are in harm’s way, the journey of self-discovery, finding himself between two problems and not knowing which to choose.
All of these are present within The Bouncer, and as such, it feels like a Van Damme film at points. He needs to look after his daughter and he is stuck between the police looking for him to sell out his new gangster/ money forging boss, whom Lukas works for as a bouncer at a nightclub.
The emotional turmoil is present on his face. They are each blackmailing him in a different way to maintain his loyalty, to maintain the safety of his child.
As such there are points in the film where it is truly engaging, the edge of your seat stuff. The action, however, is not. Barring a couple of gunshots here and there and a quick wallop round the head that Van Damme provides an early nightclub punter who was getting mouthy, the action is little.
The longest fight scene is where Lukas has applied for a new bouncer job, having been fired from his previous for assaulting the son of an important government official (a mouthy punter who deserved it).
Lukas finds out, upon arrival at the ‘interview’, that it is last man standing for the job and a brawl ensues. Here we see a few toe kicks that you’d expect from Van Damme, but overall he spent most of the time huffing and puffing and showing his age, and barely making it past the rest of the job applicants.
He plays the downtrodden man expected in the gritty French cinema we have come to expect. Van Damme did a good job playing the role in the film and demonstrates his versatility to play a more vulnerable, emotional character brilliantly. Where dialogue was needed, he provided. But it wasn’t a Van Damme film and as such.
I suggest this as the dichotomy of the tow action styles never quite married to become one coherent narrative and as such, I was left feeling less than content come to the end. There was no emotional success culmination that I endeavored to find, that Van Damme element was omitted to the detriment of the audience and selfishly, of me.