Legionnaire: Underrated Van Dammage?

Plot: “Alain Lefevre (JCVD) is a boxer paid by a Marseille mobster to take a dive. When he wins the fight he attempts to flee to America with the mobster’s girlfriend Katrina. This plan fails and he seeks escape by joining the foreign legion. As part of the legion he tangles with abusive lieutenant Steinkampf and bonds with legionnaires Luther, Mackintosh and Rosetti. The mobster discover his whereabouts and enrolls two hitmen to finish him off. With their fort under siege and enemies within, Lefevre finds that second chances are difficult to come by in the Legion.”

When I first watched Legionnaire a few years ago I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t a huge fan simply because it wasn’t what I was expecting to see from a Jean-Claude Van Damme film; I mean how dare he try something a little different!

After watching it again the other night I think it might actually be one of JCVD’s finest hours; if you’re expecting Lionheart 2 then you’ll be disappointed as this isn’t a fight film but is really more of a character piece.

There are a couple of fight scenes but this isn’t Van Damme kicking ass; there are no fancy kicks or splits to be seen but the standout is a fight between Alain and a German Legionnaire where Alain defends his useless friend Guido and JCVD takes quite a beating… but eventually prevails.

There’s a real sense of scale to the battle scenes with a surprisingly somber (but believable) finale and it’s beautifully shot giving off an almost classic serial vibe. The music score is also rather nice with a full orchestra giving off that old school adventure feel to it.

As you can see from the above clip the action is superbly done and this was before the days of CG so the battle is impressively shot. The sound really helps to immerse you in the action too and at times it feels like you are actually there.

It’s arguably one of the best acted movies from Jean-Claude Van Damme where we really get to see his dramatic side as an actor. It has a strong supporting cast that includes Steven Berkoff, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Jim Carter (Carson from Downtown Abbey). Berkoff starts off as the abusive head of the Legionnaires who ends up having more to his character than you first think and he felt like arguably the most believable and authentic character in the story. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays Alain’s friend Luther who just wanted to escape from racist America and live his life in piece. He bites off more than he can chew when he joins the foreign legion… but really, what was he expecting? It’s the foreign legion!

The story isn’t predictable and there’s genuine heart to the characters where Alain and co. have to work together to survive the harsh desert. Alain is a true hero who will even carry his friends through the desert when their bodies are failing them. Speaking of which, personally I’d have left Guido in the desert to rot as he was weak and useless who was just there to whine and eventually die. You don’t feel bad for him though as he has “cannon fodder” written all over him from his first scene. “This is my beautiful girl Anna and we’ll be together again someday”… oh really? Hold on a second while I measure you for this body bag…

It’s just over 90 minutes long but establishes most of the characters well enough that you care what happens to them, especially Alain who loses so much but remains strong.

Legionnaire is nearly 20 years old and after revisiting it recently I’d go on the record and say it’s one of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s better films; if you give it a watch with an open mind and don’t expect martial arts galore then you’ll be in for a treat.