The Bouncer Blu-ray Review
Ageing with dignity
The Bouncer Film Review
Van Damme takes on surprisingly competent thriller about an old bouncer who just wants to take care of his child.Whilst Schwarzenegger tries desperately to hold on to the franchises that made him in the first place, Stallone - comparatively - has found the process smooth, continuing the likes of Rocky and Rambo with dignity. Similarly, second-tier action stars like Seagal have struggled with knowing when to hang up, or at least adapt, their action star mantle, whilst Van Damme appears to be much more comfortable with his career, with a decade of interesting projects (admittedly still hit and miss) that essentially kick-started with arguably the best acting that he's ever done in 2008's French-language drama, JCVD.
From a couple of brutal, bleak and superbly effective Universal Soldier sequels to colourful scene-chewing villainous roles in both Expendables 2 and Enemies Closer; a Mr Miyagi-informed turn in the Kickboxer remakes to a comedy turn in Welcome to the Jungle - hell even his Coors adverts nicely send up his action movie motifs. Still making time for straightforward action in the likes of Six Bullets and Pound of Flesh, the man is clearly unafraid of expanding his options as high kicks become increasingly inappropriate. With another more dramatic turn coming up in We Die Young, it's a good time to be a Van Damme fan, seeing him return to his native French (albeit dubbed, thankfully by him, in the English version) for the much more downbeat and quietly considered The Bouncer, which has rightly been compared to Jackie Chan's Netflix film The Foreigner as a similarly perfect vehicle for an ageing action star.
It is surprisingly sparse on action, but that works in its favour, focussing instead on crafting a tense character-driven story
Lukas is an experienced club bouncer and widowed father of an eight year old girl, and when a simple restraint of violent clientele goes wrong, he finds himself desperate for new work, getting involved with a shady strip club owner and attracting the attention of the cops. Soon he discovers that there is more than just money on the line, fighting not only for his freedom but also for the life of him and his daughter.
The Bouncer enjoys the simplicity of its structure, which sets up a series of misfortunes that befall our protagonist, sending his life spiralling out of control and cranking up the tension with every passing scene. It's a dark and frequently bleak affair - despite some surprisingly stylish shots, particularly in the club sequences - which perfectly suits Van Damme's physically battered physique, establishing his character as a weathered warrior who will do anything to survive, if not for himself, then for his daughter.
For a Van Damme movie, it is surprisingly sparse on action, but that works in its favour, focussing instead on crafting a tense character-driven story. The ensuing drama is tautly developed, maintaining a sombre mood, replete with an oppressive John Carpenter-esque score, and integrating a select number of key action scenes fluidly into the plot - making them further the story, rather than the other way around. Although it will likely hardly get noticed, this is still some of the best work that Van Damme has done in years, and perfectly suited to the twilight years of his action career.
The Bouncer Blu-ray PictureRelatively new British entertainment outlet Dazzler Media bring The Bouncer to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray, affording it a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original aspect ratio of 2.4:1 widescreen.
A strong video presentation
A surprisingly stylish affair, the film - at least at the outset - boasts a somewhat vibrant palette mostly thanks to the nightclub sequences at the start. Vivid pinks, reds and blues - neons galore - afford some rich and striking shots which belie the film's otherwise clearly limited budget. Detail levels are very good indeed, providing rich texture and fine object detail, and strong clarity throughout, lapping up every last one of Van Damme's wrinkles and tired lines. Hardly a glossy, big budget affair, this is still a nice looking piece, and even when the neons die down and colder exteriors take precedence, it benefits from a natural, un-tinted palette and solid black levels, rounding out a strong video presentation.
The Bouncer Blu-ray SoundThe Blu-ray's accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is not quite as clear-cut. Certainly it provides excellent technical coverage of the material, providing a rumbling LFE-heavy electronic score to softly but strongly underpin the feature, and delivering decent usage of the surrounds, with thunderous gunshots and punishing body-blows, but the language options - likely not a choice of the distributor but rather the production company - leave something to be desired.
With likely no better option than this, fans will probably have to swallow the flawed sound options available here
Shot in Van Damme's home country of Belgium, it's nice to see Van Damme given the opportunity to speak French which - as fans will know from JCVD - often comes across as far more natural than English, and can make all the difference to his performance. Unfortunately, this UK release doesn't allow for any of that, with the film's original French dialogue dubbed into English. In 2019, this comes as quite a shock - surely subtitles would suffice - and, at the very least, they could have provided the original French language track as an alternative.
Unfortunately, there's no other release which gets around this issue, as French and German variations don't include English subtitles, despite correcting the language issue. There are perhaps two silver linings in this case, however, as whilst a large portion of the film's background is played out in French with French actors and French dialogue, the central story involving the gangsters that own the nightclub is in English anyway, leaving dubbing only an interstitial issue. The second blessing is that the dubbing for Van Damme has been performed by Van Damme himself, making it considerably more palatable to watch, even if his intonation and 'performance' does not quite seem as natural as it perhaps would have been.
Going back to the technical aspects, the dubbing obviously inherently affects the audio track due to the differing audio levels applied, with noticeable changes in the soundtrack when the dialogue changes. This doesn't affect the effects distinctly - other than for the ambient noises - nor the score, but it makes the changes more pronounced. Still, with likely no better option than this, fans will probably have to swallow the flawed sound options available here.
The Bouncer Blu-ray ExtrasUnsurprisingly little in the way of extras apart from a trailer
The Bouncer Blu-ray VerdictAlthough it will likely hardly get noticed, this is still some of the best work that Van Damme has done in years
Despite a limited number of high profile releases in the last couple of decades, 90s action star Van Damme still continues to try, which cannot be said for all of his counterparts, and here finds himself taking on a surprisingly mature role more commensurate to his age, akin to Jackie Chan's recent Netflix turn in The Foreigner. The darker subject matter, and more bleak narrative, suits Van Damme's 'acting' style, and one can only wonder how much better this would have been in his native French, had the UK Blu-ray release provided the original soundtrack option. And that's perhaps the biggest downside to this disc, which affords very good video, and unsurprisingly little in the way of extras, and which - in spite of the dubbed language option - still likely remains the best way to pick up this film. For Van Damme completists, it's a must-have; it may not hark back to his high-kicking action era, but it's a more considered, age-appropriate role that actually comes complete with a story and well-defined characters, leaving it a decent flick even beyond the action.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £9.99
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