At this point Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy is something of an underdog. One of 2013’s bigger bombs, the film got shellacked by critics who found it lacking in comparison to Park Chan-wook’s original adaptation of the manga, while audiences had no interest in the movie, which – for whatever reason – opened Thanksgiving weekend. It’s not that bad, it just is hard to watch without comparing it to the original, which is clearly superior. This film tries to do its own things, and there are moments of inspiration, but… Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley and Elizabeth Olsen star in the remake, and my Oldboy Blu-ray review follows after the jump.
Brolin stars as Joe Doucett, an alcoholic who can’t help but ruin big deals with clients because he’s a walking mess. One day, for seemingly no reason, he’s kidnapped and locked in a room for an indeterminate stay. He spends the next twenty years changing himself, first giving up the drink, and then training his body. He wants revenge, and he has a list of possible assailants, but no clear idea of who would want to do that to him. He gets help from Marie Sebastian (Olsen) a nurse who takes a liking to him, and figures out that he might be able to find the place that held him hostage through the Chinese food they ordered. He makes progress, but it turns out the man who took him, Adrian (Copley) wants him to figure out the why, and he wants him to figure out the real revenge.
For those who know the original, the film does go there, and that’s admirable, but since the film didn’t think of it first it can hardly claim to feature the most shocking and transgressive cinematic revelation this side of Chinatown like the original can. In fact, the movie plays best for people who don’t know the original, though there are enough references to it that it’s hard to say who this version is for exactly. It does zig and zag from the original text, but not enough to be its own thing. It’s a cover, not a bad one, but not a revelation.
Which is sad because Spike Lee is a great filmmaker with a lot of talent, and writer Mark Protosevich is smart in his choices, and the cast is excellent, for the most part. It also reunites Spike with Samuel L. Jackson, who was in many of Lee’s earliest films. The biggest problem here seems to be that the film was done on a budget that didn’t allow Lee and company more room to get playful. It’s hard to compare this sort of studio work to his Inside Man.
It also means that some of the performances don’t mesh well together. Copley is entertaining playing a eurotrash freak, but he seems like he’s in a different movie than Brolin and Olsen, who play the realism, while Jackson is also playing more outlandish, particularly in his costuming. It’s good to see Michael Imperioli as Joe’s friend Chucky, but his death scene is laughable. All in all it’s a two, two and a half star remake of a five star movie, and no one’s best movie. Still, it’s not the worst thing.
Sony’s Blu-ray of the Film District release comes with a digital copy, and is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. The film comes with four extended or deleted scenes (12 min.), which includes an extended version of the infamous hallway fight. It’s followed by a making of (17 min.). “Talking Heads” (3 min.) explains the film like a trailer, while the “Workout Video” (1 min.) highlights Brolin’s transformation into a badass.