The publicity building up to the release of Spike Lee’s contentious remake of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy was less than favourable, with a copyright dispute over a poster design bringing in some undesirable exposure, while the impassioned fans of the original cult favourite seemed somewhat apathetic to Lee’s endeavour to trespass over such glorious territory. However, there was always one place where Lee could hit back at his critics and prove his venture was a worthy one: in the film itself. Regrettably, though, all the filmmaker has managed to do, is prove his doubters right.
Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucett, a destructive alcoholic who on one fateful evening has one too many, only to awake the following morning hungover and placed in solitary confinement. Perplexed as to his whereabouts, or his captor for that matter, he proceeds to spend the following 20 years in this same, claustrophobic room. While he spends every day training, building up his fitness as he anticipates a potential return to the outside world, it proves to be a wise move, as when he is finally released, he discovers he has been framed for the murder of his ex-wife. Now a wanted fugitive, Doucett becomes obsessed with vengeance, desperately on the tail of his mystery kidnapper. Confused and fragile, he finds solace in the gracious social worker Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) – as the pair spiral into a dark and corruptive world.
Oldboy suffers mostly in one regard – which is that the original tale is one of the great mystery thrillers of our time, so for many film fans (let’s not forget how popular the 2003 production was) the ending is already known, meaning we lose that sense of anxiety, as the foreboding element and elusive nature is dampened somewhat. However even for those who are yet to see the original, this picture offers very little as a unique picture of its own, without that surrealism and unpredictability the first had in abundance, as Lee has evidently attempted something a little more earnest and sincere – yet sadly fails miserably.
What certainly doesn’t help proceedings, is that Brolin is also not quite as erratic and unstable as Choi Min-sik. While a truly dire performance by Sharlto Copey as the film’s leading antagonist is severely off-putting and damaging to the material at hand, as we never once fear him or get a sense of that sinister edge he is supposed to carry. In many ways it feels somewhat unfair to merely draw comparisons to the original movie, but hey, if you don’t make superfluous remakes, this can be avoided altogether.