Based on a manga from the mid-90’s, the newest iteration of Oldboy (which I’ve taken to calling Newboy) is the tale of Joe Doucett, an obnoxious drunk of a man who, after a major business deal goes sour, suddenly finds himself imprisoned in a small hotel room for 20 years. After all that time, he blacks out one day and finds himself free… but to what cost? He’s left with that thought, and an immense desire for vengeance on whoever trapped him there.
Since the original was one of my all-time favorite movies, I was really excited for Spike Lee’s Americanized remake. Was my hype justified? Let’s see…
One solid point I can give this film is something I’ve noticed is relatively unified across the director’s body of work, and that’s the realism in the world surrounding the film. Characters actually use Google and Shazam to find information, rather than a made up search engine or program, and I appreciated that. The cinematography is better than the original, or it at least takes more risks, and in that regard, it often looks better than the original. Unlike the 2003 version, this is slightly more referential to the original manga than the first adaptation, at least in the first act. Characters seem to be a composite of both sources at times, and that is appreciated every now and again.
Gone is the philosophical narrative. Doakes/Doucett is not Oh-Dae Su, instead, Brolin’s version is portrayed as more of a thug. Even though the original is only a cult hit, this version pays a decent amount of fan-service, though in awkward ways, leading some of the most memorable scenes to lose their dramatic gravitas. A key example would be the hammer scene that was iconic, lengthy and visceral in the original, whereas the NewBoy version seems like an average fight scene by comparison, especially when the cinematography is set up almost ly the same as the original. A large number of the gory kills are usually OTT, and look silly, rather than realistic or dramatic, especially on the BluRay version. Copley, one of my favorite new actors, is extremely campy, a drastic departure from the serious roles he usually plays. His Adrian Pryce seems like the effeminate step-child of Peter Lorre and Hans Gruber, which is very saddening to viewers like myself who know he can play convincing villains and antiheroes, like he did in District 9 and Elysium.
While he does well in the role, Josh Brolin is very unconvincing as a 25ish year-old Joe. While the crew could have circumvented it with casting a different actor or better makeup, I can understand why they left the casting as-is. Without spoiling anything, the twist is much better executed in the original, especially the main character’s discovery of why he was imprisoned, and as the trailer says, why he was let go.
5. If it weren’t for a stupidly pretentious ending that just ignores prior character motivation, this film might be okay. Otherwise, I’m immensely disappointed. Is it complete garbage? No, but still, it doesn’t deserve a gold star or a rental recommendation from me. If you’ve seen the original, watch it at your own risk.