Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson
Running Time: 104 min
Release: 6th December
Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is an alcoholic, womanizing advertising executive who wakes one day to find himself imprisoned in a sealed room by forces unknown. During his captivity he learns that his wife has been brutally murdered, that he’s been framed for the crime and that his baby daughter Mia has been adopted. Over the course of 20 long years he trains himself to fight and swears vengeance on his captors, when he’s abruptly released back into the world. His mysterious tormentor has kidnapped the now grown Mia and given Joe four days to learn the truth behind his imprisonment, or Mia dies.
While watching Oldboy I often found myself thinking it was a shame that I’d seen the original 2003 Korean version, as while this remake is in many ways a solidly made thriller it pales in comparison at every turn. The story beats are basically identical, including the infamous gut punch of a twist, and scenes such as the long take hammer fight are reprised but it all feels decidedly hollow here. Director Spike Lee on the whole seems disengaged from the material, and the film has an icy distance from its characters. It looks nice with some inventive camera work and cinematography and it’s never boring, but the beating heart just isn’t there. Where original was exciting and engrossing this version is glum and po-faced, though there are occasional flashes of dark humour to help break it up.
It’s clearly established that Joe isn’t a likable guy before his imprisonment and by the time he’s released he’s pretty much a blank slate, a dead eyed vengeance seeker who’s hard to empathise with (It’s also pretty impressive that he managed to not age a day in 20 years). Josh Brolin does good work in the role but again the character is never particularly sympathetic. Elizabeth Olsen is mostly wasted as Joe’s love interest, a problem only heighted by their complete lack of chemistry. But the biggest acting disappointment is District 9 star Shartlo Copley, whose campy performance as Joe’s tormenter is immensely irritating. Samuel L. Jackson has a nice supporting role as the warden of Joe’s “Prison” and brings a little bit of spark to the film when he appears.
It’s not that Oldboy is necessarily a bad movie, but in a world where the vastly superior Korean film is readily available on DVD and Blu-ray it struggles somewhat to justify its existence. Only newcomers to this story will get anything out of this version.