Movies & TV / Reviews

Darkness of Man Review

May 28, 2024 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Darkness of Man Jean Claude Van Damme Image Credit: Global Media Distribution
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
Darkness of Man Review  

Darkness of Man Review

Jean-Claude Van Damme– Russell Hatch
Emerson Min– Jayden
Kristanna Loken– Claire
Peter Jae– Dae Hyun
Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones– Yates
Spencer Breslin– Chris
Ji Yong Lee– Mr. Kim
Andrey Ivchenko– Lazar
Zack Ward– Alexei
Chika Kanamoto– Esther

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by James Cullen Bressack
Screenplay by James Cullen Bressack and Alethea Cho, based on an original story by James Cullen Bressack and Jean-Claude Van Damme

Distributed by Saban Films

Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, drug content, and some sexual references
Runtime– 109 minutes

Darkness of Man is available on Digital starting May 21st, 2024 (check out your digital options here)

Image Credit: Global Media Distribution

Darkness of Man, directed by James Cullen Bressack, is a dark and brooding, super violent action drama featuring a truly fascinating performance by star Jean-Claude Van Damme. While the movie goes on for way too long and would likely be more easily accepted by a general audience if it had a faster pace, Darkness of Man is a worthy entry in JCVD’s filmography and will likely be embraced by his most ardent fans. Darkness of Man is also further proof that the man can act.

Darkness of Man has Van Damme star as Russell Hatch, a badass scumbum former Interpol agent living in America, acting as the protector of Jayden (Emerson Min), the teen son of Hatch’s former lover and informant Esther (Chika Kanamoto). At the beginning of the movie we see Hatch and Esther’s final meeting together at a diner, then Esther being murdered by masked assailants while Hatch is in the middle of a shootout. Distraught by what happened, Hatch vows to keep an eye on Jayden and always make sure that he’s safe. Jayden isn’t easy to deal with (Jayden believes that his mother Esther committed suicide, which is the official story of what happened, but Hatch and the audience know otherwise. Hatch can’t tell Jayden what he knows because he can’t prove it to Jayden, and Jayden doesn’t really trust him anyway). Hatch also tries to maintain a relationship with Jayden’s grandfather Mr. Kim (Ji Yong Lee), who owns a local convenience/grocery store and is well liked by the community (Mr. Kim has a special relationship with a nearby church that he’s always sending donations to. Hatch typically drives the donations over to the church for Mr. Kim). When Hatch isn’t actively watching Jayden he’s not doing much of anything. Hatch lives in a shabby hotel, has a serious drinking problem, and has a mostly sexual relationship with veterinarian Claire (Kristanna Loken). You get the sense early on that Claire really likes Hatch and wants more than a sexual relationship with him, but Hatch isn’t interested (he tells her that he doesn’t believe in sleep overs, which is his way of saying that he doesn’t want to see her in the morning). Hatch also seems to live in his head most of the time, trying to deal with the deep guilt and grief from Esther’s death. It’s not pretty at all.

So some stuff happens, Hatch gets into an argument with Jayden over his poor school attendance, and Hatch ends up running into Yates (Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones), an old DEA contact from Hatch’s active Interpol days. Yates wants Hatch to help him with an ongoing case involving Korean organized crime and the Russian mafia. Hatch wants nothing to do with the case, but Yates knows that if he prods Hatch enough that Hatch will eventually get involved. Yates suspects that his ongoing case will eventually lead to who, exactly, killed Esther, and he knows that Hatch wants to know and be able to prove who did it. While all of that is going on, we find out that Esther’s brother/Jayden’s uncle is Dae Hyun (Peter Jae), a local Korean gang leader, and that Dae Hyun despises Esther, hates Hatch, and is generally ambivalent about Jayden. I mean, Dae Hyun doesn’t want to hurt his nephew, but he isn’t exactly protective of him, either.

So then some more stuff happens, we find out that the Russian mafia is trying to move in on the Korean mafia’s territory, that the Russians want Mr. Kim to pay them extortion money, and that Dae Hyun has a plan to get Hatch to do his dirty work for him against the Russians. Dae Hyun just needs everything to fall into place so his big scheme can work. Will he be able to convince Hatch to get more deeply involved? Will Dae Hyun need to use Jayden as sort of bait to get Hatch to do what he wants him to do?

It takes quite a bit of time to set up the essential plot for Darkness of Man. There are moments where you wish that director Bressack had found a way to speed things up and get to the main plot sooner, but you eventually accept the movie’s pacing and wait to see what happens next. Even when things are slow, though, Darkness of Man is never boring. Van Damme is perpetually compelling throughout, portraying Hatch as a profoundly broken man you can’t help but root for. No one should be in the kind of seemingly endless psychic pain that Russell Hatch endures day after day. The constant voiceover Van Damme provides can seem cheesy at times (some of the things he says are a bit too on the nose in terms of showing Hatch’s pain), but you never really hate it. You accept that what Hatch is saying is what he’s genuinely feeling and you can’t laugh at it or belittle it. The guy is in pain and he’s trying to do the right thing, to fulfill the promise he made to Esther. You want the poor guy to succeed.

There is a bit of confusion as to where the main part of the story takes place. The movie starts out in Miami and then, I think, the story shifts to Los Angeles. The thing is the movie doesn’t look like it takes place in either city. We get an onscreen graphic about Miami, but we don’t get one about Los Angeles, but there’s a voiceover where it sounds like Hatch says that he’s in Los Angeles (Hatch says “L.A. is a city of lost people all in a hurry to go nowhere.”). Is it possible that the Korean mafia seen in the movie operates in both Miami and Los Angeles? Sure, but the movie doesn’t really make it clear. The city, whatever city it is, is a sad and dark place. Even during the day, when the sun is out, you don’t get a real sense of life or joy or happiness. Whatever this city is, it’s a place where people like Hatch go to exist, not necessarily to live.

Image Credit: Global Media Distribution

The action on display is down and dirty and nasty as hell. Van Damme’s fight scenes tend to be up close and personal brawls devoid of the high energy splits and kicks we sort of expect to see from JCVD. Van Damme isn’t in “unstoppable martial arts killing machine” mode here. There are moments where you think it’s possible he might lose. You know he won’t, he is still Jean-Claude Van Damme, but that sense of possible danger helps amp up the suspense. What the heck is going to happen next? The gun battles are okay but nothing all too exciting or thrilling. There is a terrific exploding head sequence, though, so the movie does have that going for it.

Van Damme is phenomenal as Hatch. As I said, he’s never not compelling and manages to carry the movie’s slow moments by sheer force of his on screen charisma. In my opinion, Van Damme has always been a pretty good actor, and Darkness of Man shows that he has more to offer than just being a badass action hero. I don’t want him to stop being a badass action hero, but it’s great to see him get a chance to do something where his character is in danger because he isn’t the baddest badass in the world. He’s broken and has problems and there’s a chance he might not figure out how to not be a broken man by the end of the movie. That’s always interesting to see.

Emerson Min does a nice job as Jayden, the teen Van Damme’s Hatch vows to protect. Min plays Jayden as a sort of typical sullen teen that’s perpetually embarrassed by the adults around him, but the loss of his Mom is what informs that sullenness so you don’t ever get annoyed with him. You can tell that Jayden is going through his own grief process, and you just wish that he could get the help that he needs. Hatch wants to help him by always being there for him, but Hatch can’t figure out his own grief so he isn’t much help to Jayden in that sense. It’s that confusion that helps you feel for Jayden even more.

Peter Jae does a great job as Dae Hyun, the scumbag boss of a local Korean criminal gang. Jae portrays Dae Hyun as a guy that everyone around him has to fear because he’s always dangerous (it’s his job to be dangerous). Dae Hyun has this massive hatred for his dead sister Esther, which is hard to rectify as a response to some sort of trauma. You get the sense that Dae Hyun is just an asshole. Jae knows how to make that work.

Kristanna Loken does a decent job as Claire, Hatch’s new girlfriend. Claire clearly has feelings for Hatch, feelings he doesn’t necessarily reciprocate. Claire sticks around anyway. I was surprised that Loken, a female action star (she’s a Terminator!), doesn’t participate in any action moments, but she does have real chemistry with Van Damme. It would be fun to see Loken appear in a future Van Damme action vehicle and get more to do.

Spencer Breslin is the movie’s comic relief as Chris, Hatch’s drug dealer neighbor. Chris is a complete goofball who pops into Hatch’s life over and over again after Hatch complains to Chris about loud music. And the more Chris keeps getting involved in Hatch’s life the funnier Chris becomes.

Ji Yong Lee does a good job as Mr. Kim, Jayden’s grandfather and the owner of the little convenience store that Hatch likes to frequent. It’s shocking how we find out that Mr. Kim isn’t who we thought he was at the beginning of the movie. It shocked me, anyway. And Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones, the TV Blade, shows up every so often to try to get Hatch to do something and does an okay job. It’s fun to see Sticky Fingaz, but he like Loken he doesn’t get to do much in the way of action, which is a shame.

And Andrey Ivchenko and Zack Ward are quite good as the Russian mobsters Lazar and Alexei. They actually get to participate in the movie’s action moments, especially Ivchenko. What happens to both of them is nothing short of brutal. Nasty, too.

And be on the lookout for Shannen Doherty as Vivian, a mother that Hatch meets at Jayden’s school (Vivian has the hots for Hatch big time), fellow action star Cynthia Rothrock as a nurse (why the hell isn’t she involved in the action, too? It’s Cynthia Rothrock, for God’s sake, Weston Cage as a Russian thug named Anton, JCVD’s son Kris Van Damme (I never recognize him in a movie but he’s in the credits) and Eric Roberts as a guy that wants a fully loaded burrito. That isn’t me joking. That’s all Eric Roberts does in the movie. Director James Cullen Bressack also makes an appearance as a guy named Gordon, although I don’t remember seeing him. He’s there, though. Just like Kris Van Damme, Bressack wouldn’t be in the credits if he wasn’t in the movie.

Darkness of Man is not a pleasant movie. It’s dark and brooding and kind of sad and filled with brutal violence, but it’s never not engrossing. Star Jean-Claude Van Damme shows that he can act and carry a movie mostly using his considerable screen charisma. If you’re a JCVD acolyte you should absolutely make an effort to see it (and you’re probably already planning to do so). If you like movies about broken people trying to get through each day, you might want to give Darkness of Man a chance. I liked the movie quite a bit. Is it one of JCVD’s best movies? No. But Darkness of Man is definitely one of JCVD’s best performances.

Image Credit: Global Media Distribution

See Darkness of Man. See it, see it, see it. Darkness of Man is available on Digital starting May 21st, 2024 (check out your digital options here)

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: At least 12

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: Super ominous music, a diner, a home break in, a warehouse shootout, bullet to the leg, bullet to the head, nail file used as a knife, bullet to the shoulder, poison injection, mouth foaming, a muscle car, attempted conversation, bar stuff, attempted car theft, a brutal hand-to-hand brawl, car window smashing, gang war stuff, a record player in the background, attempted coffee pouring, mob stuff, attempted robbery, cop beating, a 4-on-1 brawl, gun stealing, a food truck, off screen hotel room ransacking, a hidden camera, illegal drug buying over the internet, a 2-on-1 brawl, attempted truth telling, a brief hospital stay, sniper rifle hooey, a bag full of money, tire shooting, multiple headshots, a wild flip, bloody finger removal, exploding head, a brief bathroom brawl, knife to the side of the neck with massive blood spray, bullet through the leg, bullet to the arm, gutting, yet another bullet to the head, ketamine, a very tender moment, a shocking shooting, , another shootout, thread wrapping up, a surprising ending.

Kim Richards? Attempted. Sort of.

Gratuitous: Jean-Claude Van Damme sitting in a diner, Jean-Claude Van Damme drinking coffee, Jean-Claude Van Damme doing a somber voiceover, a TV news report, Jean-Claude Van Damme taking a shower and then freaking out over memories, old movie posters framed on the wall, Kristanna Loken playing Jean-Claude Van Damme’s girlfriend, Kristanna Loken wearing and dancing around in sexy black underwear, Kristanna Loken smoking a vape, a cat that wears a surveillance camera on its collar, Jean-Claude Van Damme living in a hotel, graffiti, Korea town, Jean-Claude Van Damme using a flask, a porno magazine, church donations, Jean-Claude Van Damme talking about the Santa Anna winds, Jean-Claude Van Damme drinking whiskey, Jean-Claude Van Damme smoking cigarettes, Sticky Fingaz playing a federal agent, Russian mobsters, Spencer Breslin playing a goofy drug dealer, Jean-Claude Van Damme drinking a No Beetz supplement every morning, Jean-Claude Van Damme saying “motherfucker,” Jean-Claude Van Damme smoking on school property, Shannen Doherty having the hots for Jean-Claude Van Damme, macho bullshit, Eric Roberts wanting a fully loaded burrito, Jean-Claude Van Damme saying “Hello, old friend. We meet again” to the gun he has hidden inside of a clock in his hotel room, a black and white flashback, Jean-Claude Van Damme in the hospital, Cynthia Rothrock as a nurse, Jean-Claude Van Damme using a sniper rifle, Zack Ward as a Russian mobster, Kristanna Loken giving Jean-Claude Van Damme ketamine, Jean-Claude Van Damme wearing a wire, New Mexico, ice cream eating.

Best lines: “Anyone who has walked in darkness knows there’s no point in making promises.” “Nothing will happen to you.” “Life has a plan for all of us, even if we don’t agree.” “Ah, Jayden. Little shit.” “Did I get you in trouble? Be gone before I get back. I don’t do sleepovers.” “Tell Jayden thanks for this.” “L.A. is a city of lost people all in a hurry to go nowhere.” “Jayden, not today. Not again.” “Great kid, Esther. Great kid.” “Looks like you’re working hard. Go fuck yourself. I work hard. You’re an alcoholic.” “My father has become a weak man.” “You were supposed to be here for the kid. Not me.” “Yo, is that the pizza?” “Hey, Jayden, you don’t have to sit in the back next time.” “Hey! Pick those up!” “Where there is smoke there is fire.” “It’s not what it looks like.” “I want a burrito! Fully loaded!” “You really don’t know shit about shit, do you?” “That was fucking awesome!” “Damn! This place got fucked up!” “So were you mugged, Mr. Hatch?” “The thing about life is we can’t escape our fate. No matter what path that we may walk. I have spent my life trying to walk in the path of light only to be swallowed by the darkness. I have seen the darkness of man. I must not become it.” “Revenge? This I respect.” “You can be a hero for a short time, but you will never sleep soundly in this city again.” “If you told me where Jayden was you could have lived tonight!” “I work with wounded animals for a living. I learn a lot by looking in their eyes.” “Whoo! Shit! That’s spicy!” “If you wanted a girl you could have just asked.” “Jayden. I want what is best for you.” “Hey, do you think they’re going to come looking for us? Eh, don’t worry about that. It’s my problem.” “I’ll never be done walking in the darkness. But at least I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And I am not alone.”

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Darkness of Man, directed by James Cullen Bressack, is a dark and brooding, super violent action drama featuring a truly fascinating performance by star Jean-Claude Van Damme. While the movie goes on for way too long and would likely be more easily accepted by a general audience if it had a faster pace, Darkness of Man is a worthy entry in JCVD’s filmography and will likely be embraced by his most ardent fans. Darkness of Man is also further proof that the man can act. The movie is never not engrossing. I liked the movie quite a bit. Is it one of JCVD’s best movies? No. But Darkness of Man is definitely one of JCVD’s best performances. See Darkness of Man. See it, see it, see it. Darkness of Man is available on Digital starting May 21st, 2024 (check out your digital options here).