It’s not often I like a reboot better than the original but I’m afraid that’s the case this time. I’m sure some purists reading this will be exploding with rage over that sentiment but phhhhhbbbttttt, I’m entitled to my opinion too…
A quick summary – Oldboy is a twisted tale of revenge, incest and psychological manipulation. Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucett, a bastard who had bad stuff coming to him if there ever was one. And that’s just what happens, his past actions catch up to him with him held prisoner in what looks like a really tacky hotel room that gets one channel and the same things on the menu for each meal. Which doesn’t sound terrible until you realize he’s held there for 20 years and there’s absolutely no human contact with anyone else, ever. His television choices aren’t great either and consist of cheesy exercise videos and a news show that happens to be covering the story of him being a murderer of his own family and where his daughter is now. Joe eventually gets released and embarks on a quest to find his captor of the last two decades.
The story goes down some roads that you may not see coming. As the tale unravels, so does Joe, becoming crazier and crazier as he learns the truth and what’s really happening to him. There are some great unexpected moments that make this story feel original and at times, shocking. For those of you who have seen the original, what I like better about the Spike Lee version is that it doesn’t get nearly wrapped up in the torture porn aspects of the original. There are some brutal moments and we never find out why Joe is suddenly a fighting expert, but hey, gratuitous moments are going to be expected with a film like this.
Lee does an excellent job with the directing tasks. I especially enjoyed the fight sequences which pay homage to the original in terms of style. There is some really interesting camera work being used to create tension as well as sadness and drunkenness to great effect. The interpretation from the original was more dynamic and compelling to follow as well. The first version was more flash where this version feels more about the emotion without the cartoony and extreme exaggerations of the original.
The actors are top notch. Josh Brolin is engaging as usual and has no trouble carrying most of the film. Elizabeth Olsen and Michael Imperioli (from Sopranos fame) are both convincing and passionate. Samuel L. Jackson is tight as a bad guy although his performance is pretty formulaic for him here. Sharlto Copley continues to prove himself a chameleon and plays his character with a style that dominates the screen, even alongside Brolin which isn’t easy to do.
Not for the timid of heart, this movie has some intensely violent and emotionally jarring moments. If you like challenging films that don’t necessarily offer the typical happy ending, you might like this one.
reviewed by Sean McKnight