Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake fails to live up to the greatness of the Park Chan-wook’s original film, but does manage to match some of its grit. Lee doesn’t shy away from the story’s violence or disturbing plot twists. The talented director just never gives the film a way to stand on its own and be more than just a Hollywood remake of a better film that didn’t need to be remade in the first place.
Directed by Lee and written by Mark Protosevich, the remake sees Josh Brolin taking on the role of alcoholic ad executive Joe Doucett. The audience is introduced to the character quickly in the year 1993 and almost instantly hates the guy. Lee makes the most of an argument with Joe’s ex-wife and shows in addition to being a drunk Joe isn’t much of a father to his young daughter Mia.
A night of drinking finds Joe making his way to the bar owned by his high school friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli) and eventually notices a mysterious woman standing under a yellow umbrella. He is knocked out and wakes later in a small hotel room where he discovers he is prisoner there. The room has a sliding door where his meal (always the same dumpling and rice along with a bottle of vodka) is pushed through twice a day. There is also a television that plays kung-fu movies, exercise videos (one Joes likes a little too much) and a true crime reality show where Joe learns about the shocking murder of his ex-wife. He also discovers he has been framed for the murder and that his daughter has been adopted.
Later the crime show does a follow-up to the murder and shows Joe that Mia has moved on with her life and become a gifted cello player. The imprisonment gives Joe the determination to get sober, healthy, and learn a few new fighting skills for the revenge he plans to inflict on the people who imprisoned him. He also begins writing his daughter letters begging for her forgiveness and telling her how he changed because of her.
After 20 years in the room, Joe is drugged and wakes to find himself in a field where he sees a girl with a yellow umbrella and finds a bag full of money. With revenge on his mind, Joe heads to Chucky’s bar to try to find out what has happened while he was gone. He also meets a nurse named Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) and the mysterious man (Sharlto Copley) who imprisoned him for 20 years. The man tells Joe that he has Mia and will release her plus give Joe $20 million in diamonds if Joe can discover his identity and why he imprisoned Joe. The rest of the film is a revenge-fueled thrill ride with several twists that will leave the audience shocked if they aren’t already familiar with the original film.
Spike Lee’s Oldboy is not a horrible movie, but it never manages to be as great as the original or really give the audience a reason to watch it over Park Chan-wook’s version of the story. Brolin is solid in the film and does a great job transforming Joe from someone the audience despises to someone they can want to see get revenge for all the wrong done to him and his family. He benefits from Olsen and the storyline of the two characters. The talented actor also seems a natural in the action sequences, even when they seem to get a tad long and silly.
As villains Sharlto Copley and Samuel L. Jackson (who plays Chaney the man paid to run the hotel where Joe was held prisoner) both seem to be enjoying being as evil as possible to Joe. They both have a tendency to overact their parts and be a little too larger than life, but it still entertains – mostly because the audience has spent the first half of the film watching Brolin alone in a room. Sharlto never seems fully developed as a character, and his revenge plot a little too extreme to be believable.
Lee’s use of color and filming style are a perfect fit for Blu-ray’s 1080p picture, where the colors really seem to pop off the screen. The Blu-ray also comes loaded with some decent features that go into the making of the film, and include alternate/extended scenes that don’t really do much to fix the film’s problems.
Oldboy isn’t bad, but will not please fans of Park Chan-wook’s film. It is an interesting choice for Lee to direct and he succeeds on many levels. The film features a great cast and manages to be just as disturbing as the original. The twists are still there, but don’t seem as haunting. The whole film also feels a tad too glossy compared the grit of the original.