Oldboy (2013) Review

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Spike Lee‘s Oldboy is a frustrating film. One that makes you question its existence around almost every single corner. As its own thing, Oldboy (2013) is a fairly basic revenge story, with a few twists and turns to throw you off, but as a remake of an acclaimed classic, Oldboy fails to hit its mark on more than one occasion. Spike Lee‘s talented hands do nothing with this adaptation, while Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen and even Sharlto Copley do their best to make the film not a complete chore to sit through. This version of Oldboy will quickly be forgotten.

Joe (Josh Brolin) is a drunk of a father and a man that just doesn’t appreciate a damn thing. Suddenly, he’s taken hostage and held captive alone for twenty whole years. He’s not told who did it or why. On one random day, he finds himself back in the free world, scrambling to figure out what just happened with the past two decades of his life.

While imprisoned, he kicked the boos and decided that his sole purpose would be to start loving and caring for his daughter upon earning his freedom, while also finding the person that did this to him and punish them for the wasted years that Joe had to reflect on his poorly-lived life.

It’s really hard to truly discuss a film like Oldboy without ruining major plot points, because the film takes some twists and turns almost immediately after Joe is set out into the wild after twenty years. So, instead of detailing the film, I’ll just cut right to it and discuss what I liked and disliked about the film and if I think it’s a worthy remake or even a worthy film to stand on its own.

Spike Lee‘s Oldboy isn’t as much a remake as it is a tribute to the original Korean film, directed by Park Chan-wook. And that’s where this review is going to get a bit fuzzy. You can’t really view Oldboy as its own film, when it spends so much of its running time nodding and winking at the original, without ever injecting its own substance with matter. It’s not fair to compare a remake to an original film, but this one borrows so heavily from the source material that it becomes downright distracting. It lifts direct scenes and shots at wholesale and it does so poorly and without much effort or reasoning.

This is one of the worst kinds of remakes, but not exactly a bad film.

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Spike Lee is a very talented filmmaker and one that’s been known for his unique voice that he brings both in front of and behind the camera. Oldboy isn’t a Spike Lee Joint, but instead just another generic remake, with a well-known name attached to it. Think of it like Kevin Smith‘s Cop Out, which I actually enjoyed.

Here, Lee doesn’t seem the least bit interested or engaged in the material and instead of lending the film his much-needed vision and clarity, he gives it his hands to point and shoot. Oldboy is competently made and edited, but there’s not a single heartbeat to be found.

Lee’s take on the classic hammer hallway fight scene is a complete joke. It’s exactly the kind of thing that hurts this remake more than help it. Lee introduces the hammer poorly and continues on by recreating such a classic action sequence with little care and poor framing. The music is awful, the movements are slow and lousy and Josh Brolin‘s inability to sell a punch comes across loud and clear. Why even bother with such an iconic scene if you’re going to be so lazy with its execution? Pointless and distracting.

The film sometimes shines when it takes little liberties, changing small details and focusing on aspects that weren’t too focused on in the original. This is where Lee’s Oldboy becomes a tolerable revenge piece, but one that’s still much more obvious and predictable than the original film.

Josh Brolin does the best with the leading role, despite being miscast as the rather large and intimating Joe. The whole point of the character’s progression from beginning to middle to end isn’t really shown physically through Brolin, who is already a big and put together man, but he does a fine job showing off his emotional chops, if sometimes going a little too far in revealing Joe’s many imperfections.

Elizabeth Olsen is mostly background noise as one of the film’s most important characters that goes by mostly underutilized.

Sharlto Copley and Samuel L. Jackson fair slightly better than both Brolin and Olsen, only because their screen time isn’t as large and they manage to make the best of their short lines. Copley mostly gets by on his weird accent and awkward presentation, while Jackson keeps winking at the camera and cursing for the sake of it. Both men don’t do much, but they do save the film from being completely forgettable on its star power.

Spike Lee‘s direction is what really gets me. The man has done such great work, yet he goes by mostly unnoticed with Oldboy. Why did he even bother with the project, if he never had any plans to put forth some effort? I can’t blame him for the paycheck, but I can say that seeing his name on this and then seeing the movie makes me upset and disappointed. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but I was at least expecting something uniquely his.

Watching Oldboy and not thinking about the original still leaves many problems. The film is violent, but moves slow and spends way too much time on points that don’t matter all too much, aside from paying homage to the original. Also, the twist and reveal is rather obvious and not nearly as effective. Newcomers will definitely like parts of the film, but I still feel like even they’d be more excited to hunt down the original than to re-watch this one on home video.

And that’s where this film becomes a giant problem. It never gets away with being its own film. It borrows too much and in the end it will only exist to point new viewers in the direction of the original. Fans of the original will be disappointed sorely, while newcomers will appreciate the bizarre story and graphic CGI blood and violence.

Oldboy is a shallow and pointless remake that lives up to the typical Hollywood standard when it comes to remakes. It brings nothing new to the table and mostly wastes its cast and crew. Bummer.

Oldboy (2013) – 6.5/10

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