BY ADRIANA FLORIDIA
The fundamental question here has to be, is Spike Lee serious?
Oldboy is the re-make of the highly acclaimed Korean film of the same title, and in this 2013 American re-boot, the movie feels so over-the-top ridiculous to the point where it may make you wonder if it’s supposed to be serious at all.
Josh Brolin stars as Joe Doucette, an alcoholic advertising executive who is an asshole to everyone he meets and even moreso to his ex-wife and three-year-old daughter. After one particularly bad night of drinking and creating enemies, Joe finds himself locked up in a hotel room for no explainable reason. He is held in this room for 20 years until he is released to a world he no longer knows, and again, for a reason that he is unaware of.
During the last twenty years, Joe has sobered up, exercised along to atrocious 1990’s style work-out videos and has actively watched a television show that profiles unresolved crimes. He sees that he has been accused of the rape and death of his ex-wife and that the rest of the world believes that he has fled because of this crime. He watches interviews with his daughter who has been left to foster care, and strives to become a better man so that he can one day meet her and explain to her what has happened to him.
After his release, Joe is on a quest with a vengeance. He will kill anybody who gets in the way of him finding both his captor and his daughter. With some help from an old friend and a young medical worker (Elizabeth Olsen), Joe works to solve the mystery that his captor poses, “who am I?” and “why did I lock you up for 20 years?”
Oldboy is a highly stylistic film. The first half, which takes place in the early 90s-2000s, is filmed in 16mm, giving it a grainy, old-school look. This element really helps create the shift from past to present and represents how long Joe has been locked up–we can see the transformation before our eyes. The stronger half of the film is watching Joe struggling to keep his sanity while being locked up, and this is the highlight of Josh Brolin’s performance.
Once Joe is out of his hotel room prison, the movie shifts tone and gets a bit crazy. The film is an adaptation of a Korean film, as mentioned, but it feels like an imitation. It feels like the film is still trying to capture the Korean elements, through the culture that is represented, the fighting sequences, and even in the performances–they feel like imitations of those in the original film, not re-interpretations. Brolin is decent overall, but he becomes barbaric after his escape. This is part of the character, but the shift feels strange. Elizabeth Olsen is good, as always, but her role does not give her much to do. The performance most worth discussion has to be Sharlto Copley, whose portrayal of the villain, Adrian, single-handedly turns what could have been a seriously disturbing atmosphere into a jokey, soap opera-like affair. His eccentric mannerisms make for laugh-out-loud moments whenever he is on screen; it feels like he belongs in another movie, something of the Austin Powers sort.
The film poses its protagonist with a challenge that seems twisted and difficult, but the pace at which everything unravels and the way it does, through flashback techniques and really simple research (like using Shazam), makes solving this mystery rather unsatisfying. The big reveal at the end, and the twist that the first version of this film was so famous for, is delivered in such a melodramatic way that it doesn’t even feel very rewarding; again, it’s just absurd and laughable.
Oldboy has some good elements, but even if we disregard the original film, this one as a stand-alone does not hold up. It loses its tone, and takes something that should be dark, mysterious, and disturbing and makes it unintentionally funny. While it is an entertaining watch, it is also disappointing to see how the material was handled in this unnecessary adaptation.
Adriana Floridia is a girl who has been passionate about film her whole life. Get to know her on Twitter @adrifloridia.