Director: Spike Lee.
Screenplay: Mark Protosevich.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Michael Imperioli, James Ransone, Max Casella, Pom Klementieff, Lance Reddick, Richard Portnow, Linda Emond, Elvis Nolasco, Rami Malek, Hannah Ware, Hannah Simone, Ciera Payton, Elvy Yost.
“Heaven make me free of it. The rest is silence.”
Park Chan Wook’s 2004 Korean original of “Oldboy” is one of the most visceral and emotionally devastating thrillers that you’re ever likely to find. As a result, it totally baffled me when I heard about the intentions for an English language remake. I don’t care how much of an impressive cast or crew were assembled, as far as I see it, there really isn’t anything else that could have been brought to treading this ground again. Now that I’ve seen Spike Lee’s version, I stand by that even more. This was a completely pointless exercise.
Estranged husband and father Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is on a downward spiral with his alcohol problem. One drunken night he’s kidnapped from the streets and wakes up in a locked room with no windows and no means of communication. He’s held here without explanation, while on the outside he’s framed for the murder of his ex-wife. After 20 years in this locked room, he’s suddenly released and sets about finding out the truth and why he was held in the the first place.
I’ll start with the (very few) positives this film has to offer and that simply comes down to Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen. They are both on particularly fine form and give this misguided endeavour more than it actually deserves. The same can’t be said for the villains of the piece, though. Normally, the nasties are the one’s that stand out in a film of this type but in this case, it’s them that suffer the most in their caricature roles; Jackson is his usual self and (with that idiosyncratic tone of his) can make even the worst of dialogue work for him. He adds a requisite sprinkle of menace but he’s so elaborately overdressed that he looks like he’s just there to do a little turn on the catwalk. Copley, on the other hand, I feel both sorry and embarrassed for. He’s even more ridiculous. His accent and histrionics are so laughably bad and completely misplaced that he looks like he’s wandered in from a child’s pantomime. The only thing missing was an audience taking great delight in booing or hissing him off the stage. If Copley doesn’t get his act together soon, he’ll fade into obscurity and his wonderful work in “District 9” will be a thing of the past.
The film itself looks the part, though, and Spike Lee almost gives the impression that he knows what he’s doing by capturing a suitably grim and foreboding atmosphere. However, it’s ultimately the script that lets everyone down here. It’s practically a scene-for-scene remake of the original (well, the good bits at least) but the changes that they do make to the story don’t improve it in the slightest. It really is perplexing why they would’ve even went to the bother and why such an acclaimed director and cast would put their reputations at stake.
The scene that stood out for me was the ridiculous hallway fight (where Lee is obviously trying to emulate Park’s impressive handling of a similar one-take scene from the original). Here, Brolin takes on an abundance of adversaries and it’s obvious how badly choreographed it is. His opponents are absolutely nowhere near him as they swipe the air with pieces of plywood while our man sets about them with his claw hammer. It’s was around this point that I gave up on the whole affair, as it was apparent that the filmmakers were putting as much of an effort into the film as I am this review.
With almost ten years between them, I can only assume that Hollywood thought this was ripe for a remake. It’s not! Granted, it might work a lot better for those that are unfamiliar with the original but for others, it’s pretty much a guarantee that it won’t. If it does appeal to those that are already versed in Park’s sublime original, then I’ll eat my claw hammer with a live Octopi chaser.
Trivia: Joe (Josh Brolin) looks at a octopus swimming in a tank at a restaurant and walks away, which is a nod to the infamous octopus scene from the original “Oldboy” film.