If you're shooting a movie about a corrupt cop who is addicted to heroin then you may not immediately think of getting Jean-Claude Van Damme for the lead role, yet here we are with Until Death.
Van Damme plays Anthony Stowe, an officer who is clearly spiralling from bad to worse. His wife (Selina Giles) is getting ready to leave him, he betrays colleagues who approach him in confidence, and there's every chance that he is being more of a help than a hindrance to a dangerous drug dealer (Stephen Rea) who used to work alongside him. Which makes it awkward when he is almost killed and then has a change of heart, wanting to right a number of wrongs when he has gone through rehabilitation and gets back on his feet.
This is a dark film, no denying that, but it manages to avoid being a bleak one. Writers Dan Harris and James Portolese plot things nicely, dragging viewers down with the lead character until he hits bottom and starts to swim back up to the light (as it were), highlighting a lot of his worst traits while also painting a bigger picture of someone who may not have started off as a bad apple, and who may find his way back from the edge.
Director Dan Harris also does a good job. Things are paced well, with tension throughout drawn from the consequences of the main character, and he gets surprisingly good performances from everyone involved while taking viewers on a journey that feels more like an Abel Ferrara movie than a Van Damme vehicle.
And Van Damme gives one of his better performances, an unflattering turn that gives a hint to what he would give us just a year later in JCVD. Stephen Rea is always good value. I was bemused when I saw his name listed in this, which I still thought of as a standard Van Damme movie before the plot started to unfold, but the film needs an actor with the presence to outdo our lead in terms of being a bad man doing bad things, and Rea fits the bill perfectly. Selina Giles does well, Gary Beadle is the stereotypical police chief, and Mark Dymond, Trevor Cooper and Stephen Lord all give better supporting performances than those seen in other Van Damme films from the years preceding this one.
It's ironic that this film, all about a man who almost dies and then tries to turn things around, is wedged here amongst the worst of the Van Damme movies. The resurrection of his career may not have been a smooth trajectory but he obviously took stock at some point and made more of a determined effort to put right a few wrongs.
You can buy the movie here.
Americans can pick it up here.