A nightclub bouncer with a clinching dark past is the center of Julien Leclerq’s most recent crime story internationally known as The Bouncer. Leclerq takes a back seat to focus primarily directing after penning most of his own features, leaving this particular feat in the willing hands of Jérémie Guez who recently penned Dominique Rocher’s feature debut, The Night Eats The World, in addition to writing his own directorial outing, A Bluebird In My Heart.
The focus and framing of Leclerq’s The Bouncer is almost unmistakably as brooding as what you might notice in a film like The Wrestler. The brutal, unyieldingly violent life led by Lukas is absorbed on screen and in full by the venerable Jean-Claude Van Damme who continues to adapt to more grounded, visceral, raw, human and otherwise vulnerable roles. Here he’s as tough and grisled as ever in the role of Lukas, a bouncer well into his age while still clearly able to kick around with the younger dudes if he can, unafraid to take punches if it means he can dish his own.
His life is relatively quiet and as private as he prefers, raising an eight-year old daughter, Sara, by himself in a small, darkly lit apartment complex. It’s a life of respite peace and happiness as he toils away at his job dealing with the peacekeeping at the nightclub where he works, and unfortuantely, that includes dealing with rich, privileged troglodytes in cheap suits who think they’re larger than life. In a single blink of an eye, such a moment passes in tragic, accidental fashion, and Lukas is left job hunting once more when the police get involved.
This brings us to a local strip club with a sizeably more uncouth screening process that Lukas barely survives. As fate would have it however, Lukas’s nightmare continues when Interpol agent Maxim (Sami Bouajila) brings him in for a little more than a raft of questioning regarding the earlier incident; Behind the scruitiny is a damning ultimatum that corners Lukas into obliging the cops’ request, and interestingly, it has every bit to do with his new employer, Jan (Sam Louwyck), commencing a dark odyssey of violence, danger and death. It’s every bit indicative of the almost natural descent into Belguim’s criminal underbelly that he knows is no good for Sarah (Alice Verset) – a fact (as if things couldn’t be worse) made loud and clear when she gets kidnapped right in front of him in order to complete a key task.
Leclerq’s ability to direct drama that brims with intensity and strong contours plays out in characteristically cultivated fashion in The Bouncer, pulsating with robust delivery in its concentrate tone and packaging. Taking a few cues from Darren Aranofsky’s own film mechanics adds to the palpable visuals, and with Van Damme reaching a new, signature career high as an actor. His physicality is as up to par as it always is while adapting to choreography that bodes as distinctive and fitting of his character – someone with a cross to bare along with a quiet timidity in his collective air past his steely, aged bearing. He’s someone who would rather stay invisible, and as the movie no less invokes, that’s never possible.
Much of the film’s journey relies on Lukas’ ability to keep up the act as he tries to earn Jan’s trust while often, and without much hesitation, getting his hands dirty to appeal enough to his new boss. You can imagine the extent to which he’ll try to measure his actions while making this possible as Maxim continues to follow along from a silent distance; indeed, for most of the film, you don’t really know what Lukas’ plight is, save for the bits and pieces that the film leaves for you to collect along the way which is largely fine. By the time Guez’s script elucidates this in the scenes nearing the final act, you’ll likely have already gotten the idea, in whole or in part – a telling trope of Leclerq’s ability to tell stories without insulting his audience.
Actress Sveva Alviti’s performance contributes requisite supporting value with a worthy portrayal of Lisa who is pretty much the closest thing Jan has to a girlfriend, and equally as a babysitter to Sarah. Bouajila plays the relentless Maxim; In the version I watched, his character is completely dubbed as is most of the film for its French-speaking characters – the performance overall was nicely done, crisp and clear as was the English audio which leaves nearly no stone unturned in presenting an intriguing lynchpin character.
The first four minutes of The Bouncer is the calm quiet-before-the-storm leading to an artful, cinematic build-up to the rest. The score hands you some immersive crescendos at times, paired with several brilliant one-take shots between the action and drama – all amplified to some degree with an elevated touch to the project. While not the commercial, wall-to-wall action fanfare that some fanboys declare it should be, The Bouncer is a gripping, enhanced gangster noir proving itself every which way that it can hold its own.
Dazzler Media will release The Bouncer on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital on April 8, with pre-orders now available at Amazon. The film is currently open in the U.S. from Blue Fox Entertainment.