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Six Bullets sees Jean-Cluade Van Damme teamed with Stargate Universe's Joe Flanigan. One of JCVD's biggest fans and occasional collaborator, Mike Leeder assesses the result…

 

Here's Six Bullets – a movie that features a kidnapping in Europe and a father trying to get his daughter back… but as much as we love Taken it wasn’t the first movie to feature a similar plot and it won’t be the last! Here, Jean-Claude plays Samson Gaul, a highly skilled soldier turned mercenary who until recently specialised in rescuing kidnapped children – he was the best in the business and the police were even prepared to turn a blind eye to his activities until his most recent job went wrong: a child was saved but several more were killed when things went wrong. Gaul seems intent on trying to find redemption in the bottom of a bottle and focusing his mind on something, anything but the events that haunt him.

Andrew Fayden (Joe Flanigan) is an American MMA champion hoping to restart his career with a major fight in Eastern Europe, but his hopes for a comeback are thrown into disarray when his daughter Monica is kidnapped. When the law is unable to help, and his own attempts at finding her lead him into nothing but trouble, he turns to Samson Gaul who might just find the redemption he needs in rescuing the girl.

The Van Damme come back continues here, his recent return to the big screen in The Expendables 2 caught a lot of people’s attention, and Six Bullets (previously called The Butcher) serves as a very impressive DVD premiere. Jean-Claude is no longer the fresh faced idealistic hero from Bloodsport and Kickboxer. He’s lived an eventful life, and experienced the best and worst aspects of success and he brings that real world experience into play with his character Samson Gaul within the film. Gaul is a hard man in a tough world, struggling to deal with his own demons, riddled with guilt and self-doubt and trying to drown his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle or three. A job went wrong badly, and it’s left its mark on him, he’s pushed away his family, his friends and turns down the initial request to save the daughter, as he’s scared of what might happen, who might get caught in the crossfire, scared of the prospect of being haunted by another ghost of someone he couldn’t save. It’s a strong turn from Jean-Claude as an actor, there are moments when his performance really hits the nail and moves you, proving once again that with the right director he’s still a force to be reckoned with as an actor as well as a screen fighter. One scene between him and the character being played by Kristopher Van Varenberg really showcased how strong an actor JC can be: they’re having an argument about the mess Jean-Claude as made of things, and it ends with Jean-Claude in tears and you really feel for his character and the personal hell he’s found himself in. And yes, we know that in the end, he has to step up and take action, to heal himself in the blood of battle.

Joe Flanigan, a fan-favourite from the acclaimed Stargate Universe makes a believable MMA champion; complete with UFC style tattoos and suitable gruffness that hides his true feelings for his daughter and those around him. He also handles himself well in the action scenes, and I would be interested to see him in further action offerings. Jean-Claude's two eldest children, Kristopher Van Varenberg and Bianca Van Varenberg (Bianca Bree as she’s also known) also appear in the film. Certain critics seem to have an issue with Jean-Claude’s children appearing in his films, but both acquit themselves well here. After playing the victim in Assassination Games (as the comatose wife of Scott Adkin’s character) Bianca gets to play the bad girl as one of the people involved in the kidnapping of Flanigan’s onscreen daughter  – only to get herself in over her head. Bianca looks great, having the best of her father and mother (Glady’s Portugese) in terms of looks, and seems to be enjoying playing the bad girl. She’ll soon be seen battling alien invaders in the UK in the upcoming UFO which also features a cameo by her father. Kristopher Van Varenberg gets what is probably one of his best roles so far, playing the estranged son of Van Damme’s character, and their interplay at times reflects elements of their real life interaction and gives a glimpse at what Kristopher could really be capable of as an actor.

Now, the film is dealing with a dark subject human trafficking, so yes it’s a project that’s dark in tone and context – it’s not going to be laced with snappy one-liners and jokes. The film's well-paced by Barbarash; it’s an intelligent serious thriller that proves once again that Barbarash is a director to keep an eye on. He knows how to make the best of his budgets, get the most from practical locations, as well as give his cast the right direction and allow them to breathe life into their characters and doesn’t underplay the action. I particularly like the dark tone of the opening as we’re introduced to the world of child trafficking, it’s disturbing as we’re drawn into a dark world but without seeing anything that could be considered voyeuristic, and he knows what to show and what to leave to the imagination. He gets a great turn from Van Damme, giving him several scenes that stretch him as an actor, as his character struggles to deal with his own demons and so much more.

Action-wise, while we’d love to see Jean-Claude letting rip with some of his exquisite kicks to full effect once more, the tone of the film wouldn’t suit that kind of action, it’s down and dirty and it’s nice to see elements of Silat being thrown into the mix. There are several solid action sequences, some of which are very violent but all work within the framework of the film. The film's tech credits are good and the soundtrack enhances the film without becoming intrusive. The script by siblings Chad and Evan Law is one of the best for a Van Damme film in a long time. (We’ll be talking to the writers about the film shortly and their experience working on the project)

Six Bullets gets the thumbs up from Impact. It’s a very solid DVD thriller and a great slice of the new and improved Van Dammage, and we’ve been looking forward to seeing for a few years. Here’s to more projects from all involved and we’d love to see a further collaboration or two between Van Damme and Barbarash, they’re currently batting two for two and with a bigger budget and a bit more time we know they could unleash the ultimate Van Damme movie we’re waiting for….

Six Bullets is rated 15 and is released by StudioCanal. It hit shelves this week…