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Movie Review: 'Oldboy'


Starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley
Directed by Spike Lee
Rated R

Well folks, it is finally here, the day we get to finally see what has become of Oldboy, Spike Lee’s remake of the much revered Korean film that left many film fans speechless.  I went into the original Oldboy not really knowing anything about it and by the end credits, wanted to stand up in the theater and give it a standing ovation.  The film, about a man’s revenge to find out who imprisoned him for 15 years, while not on the surface, seemed like a film that was going to resonate…until the ending.   Oh that ending, we’ve talked about that ending quite a bit here at GTBP and for good reason.  It’s simply one of the best, most brazen f**ked up moments in cinema.  But it also tied up a movie, a movie with such a dark underbelly, so perfectly.  Talk of remaking Oldboy for American audiences has been around for a while, causing most fans of the original to really question the medium they love.  Remaking this film seemed like a bad idea, even above most, if not all other remakes.   And most of that negativity came down to an ending that no one saw as being able to even be in the American remake.  Well, Spike Lee’s Oldboy isn’t a complete train wreck and yes, some of the ending is there, but the question will still remain, why remake this film at all?

Oldboy, circa 2013, is above all, a pointless remake.  But it’s not entirely bad, if only because it follows pretty closely, it’s outstanding superior.  Could this remake been something with more value?  Absolutely, as Scorsese’s The Departed showed us, you can remake a great film and still make your film just as great as well.  But Lee, the guy who in his past, has pushed some buttons, apparently seems content to only be a hired gun instead of the guy who makes this film his own.  Maybe some of that comes down to not wanting to screw with a formula that is pretty close to perfect (or if the rumors are true, the producers forcing Lee’s hand to make something less personal).  Either way, the film suffers because of it.  But I don’t hate the film.  Will I ever see it again?  Not while I still have my copy of the original Oldboy sitting on the shelf.

Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is not a likable guy.  Working for an ad agency and drinking his life away, he skips out on his daughter’s birthday party in order secure the business of a big money client. Doucett’s ego and bad decision making get the best of him, allowing the big money deal to disappear.  Doucett decides to kill the pain drinking the night away, awaking one morning in what appears to be a hotel room.  Doucett though, quickly learns that his stay will be indefinite and spends the next 20 years in the same room.  Then one day he’s released without explanation.  Doucett, trying to put the pieces together as to why his imprisonment happened, finds help in the form of Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen).   Doucett finds the building of his imprisonment, watched over by Chaney (Samuel Jackson).   But Chaney isn’t the one pulling the strings, as Adrian (Sharlto Copley) appears one day to say he’s the one.  He offers Doucett a proposition: figure out who he is and why he imprisoned Doucett and Adrian will kill himself.  Failure to win the proposition will result in more pain and possible loss of life in Doucett’s world.

Let’s talk about the ending shall we?  Well, I won’t divulge exactly what happens for anyone out there who is unfamiliar with the material, but for those who are privy, let me just say that the big reveal is intact in Lee’s film.  What changes is what comes after that (and the reasoning for Doucett’s imprisonment is changed as well).   The changes that screenwriter Mark Protosevich makes don’t necessarily make this version worse than the original, but they certainly don’t make things better.  In fact, the reasoning for Doucett’s imprisonment tries to come off a little bit more twisted, but in the end, what was done in the original was just as screwed up, so making a slight change seems unnecessary.   The movie also never really let’s the characters evolve.  Jackson’s Chaney and Olsen’s Marie are terribly underwritten.  Doucett and Adrian (in particular Doucett) have more to chew on but the film seems more occupied with just filling the time with set up scenes giving the characters more than just a motivation for revenge.  

If anything positive can come out of Oldboy, it would be at they tried to remain faithful to the spirti of the original.  They didn't really back away from the material, even if the execution was severly flawed.  Brolin in the title role was a perfect choice.  He walks around with the look of a guy who wants to make people pay for what they did.  In fact, all of the casting was pretty good.  Copley, had he been given more to do, could've given us a villian that we'd be talking about years from now.  But at least we have what he did in Elysium. Even for the curious, seek out the original film, don't waste your time with this.  It's a nice attempt, but ultimately it's pointless, uninvolved and lacks any of the supspense that made the the first one so wonderfully awesome.  

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