Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Of the many things the internet has had a noticeable impact on, the prevalence, acceptance and appreciation for foreign films by a wider American audience is pretty high up on that list. Through the help of websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes along with the plethora of movie blogs, popular and critically acclaimed movies from all around the globe now have a fairer chance to find an appreciative audience in a country stereotypically believed to be allergic to any film containing subtitles. One such film that grew in popularity over the last decade through the power of digital word of mouth is the 2003 South Korean revenge thriller, Oldboy. Masterfully suspenseful, violent, and disturbing, Oldboy is not an easy watch by any means, but director Chan-wook Park’s ability to skillfully craft and unravel a multi-layered storyline was hard to ignore or write off. So hard in fact that Hollywood, in all their pilfering glory, decided it would be a great idea to bring in director Spike Lee along with Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen in the hopes to creating an “American version” of this cult classic film.
Brolin stars as Joe Doucett, an obnoxious, self-centered advertisement executive who is a functioning alcoholic. After botching an important advertisement pitch, Doucett goes on a wild bender, drinking himself into a blackout stupor. The next morning, Joe awakens to mysteriously find himself imprisoned in an undisclosed hotel room with no contact with the outside world other than the three daily meals slid under the door. As weeks turn into months, Doucett has a great deal of time to re-evaluate his life choices, especially the empty relationship he had with his young daughter. Inexplicably released after twenty years of solitary confinement, Doucett goes on a vengeful rampage in an attempt to find those responsible for his kidnapping and also to reunite with his long lost daughter. Aiding Doucett in his search for answers is Marie Sebastian, a triage nurse played by Elizabeth Olsen.
From the opening scene, Josh Brolin sets a tone of simmering intensity, committing to an unrestrained performance that could have but never did turn farcical. Olsen adeptly brought to her character a nurturing sense of over-compassion, as Marie is someone who struggles with her own inner demons and wants to help this damaged man. If there is one redeeming thing about this version of Oldboy, it would have to be the chemistry between Brolin and Olsen. Unfortunately, just about everything else however is a mess. Storylines involving Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley of District 9 fame, both felt outlandish to the point of being droll, and plot twists meant to create feelings of surprise and shock instead felt rushed and were ultimately unsuccessful. The blame for this falls on the shoulders Spike Lee, a director far past his prime whose celebrity status is now bigger than his resume. The perfect example of the ineptitude of Lee’s filmmaking is his woeful attempt to recreate one of the most memorable scenes of Park’s film, a slow motion attack sequence where the protagonist cuts through a hallway full of assailants with just a hammer. While the original’s violent depiction created a feeling of shock and awe, Lee’s looks and feels uninspiringly senseless.
The vengeful storyline of Oldboy is very taste specific. I would not recommend even the original to anyone who is squeamish about graphic depictions of violence. But what makes this 2013 version even harder to recommend is its disregard for the mysterious, dreamlike suspense the original film so masterfully created. Those unfamiliar with the story, tread lightly, and for the Oldboy fans out there, keep your expectations for this version really low.-JL
Edited by-Michelle Zenor