Remakes, as always, are a tricky business that can either elicit amazing or horrible responses. More often than not, the movies that are remade don’t really need remakes. When you take a revolutionary and cult classic film to remake, the stakes are even higher and the critics will come down even harder if the film is bad. There will always be the comparisons to the original film and it’s up to the remake to make a name for itself and make the audience believe that they’re seeing a new film. Few filmmakers posses that ability and even if they can pull it off, why bother with a remake?
Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is a the epitome of a sleaze and his drunken habits have always gotten him into trouble. After losing a big deal one night, Joe drinks until he’s out stumbling in the streets. After meeting a woman with a strange yellow umbrella with tick marks in it, Joe wakes up in a hotel room. After careful observation, Joe discovers that he’s trapped with only a TV to keep him up to date. As days turn to months in 1993, Joe sees news coverage of his wife’s murder and he is pegged as the prime suspect. His daughter Mia is adopted into a new family and hence forth, Joe is bent on escaping and fighting to tell her the truth.
Twenty years after his capture, Joe is let out in the middle of a field with thousands of dollars and a cell phone (a device which he’s never seen before). A mysterious man (Sharlto Copley) calls Joe and tells him that his daughter only has days to live, unless he can answer two questions. “Who am I, and why did I imprison you for 20 years?” As Joe gets help from medical worker Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olson) and his lifelong buddy Chucky (Michael Imperioli), Joe follows leads that will take him down a sickening path of revenge, violence, and the pursuit for truth. However, there is one question that looms over his head. Why was he released?
Director Spike Lee has never been one to shy away from violence and blood, of which there is plenty in this first remake of the South Korean film, Oldboy. Having seen both versions, I was extremely curious to see what Lee could bring to the table. The original version deals a lot with metaphors and customs in a certain lifestyle that all the characters live by. Lee completely ditches all this in an effort to create something new, but the result is not one that many people wanted. We see a lot of Spike Lee’s influence in the film, but his tweaked retelling of the story is almost frustrating, because the source material is fantastic.Josh Brolin is fine as the lead character and his physical and mental transformation is really great. His emotional reactions to what he experiences seems realistic and the culture shock he feels makes his character all the more interesting. Elizabeth Olson if fine as a supporter to Brolin and her brutal scenes are extremely well acted. The duos interactions seem real enough as they search for the mysterious man. Their more tender moments are sweet, short, and give the film some sense of emotion. Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a captor of Brolin, is essentially just Samuel L. Jackson in this film. We are graced with his ability to make anything sound badass and his use of the “f-word” seems appropriate in this kind of film.
Going into this film, I didn’t expect Lee to keep everything exactly the same. The transition to an American setting with a completely different culture is executed well and the cinematography is great to look at. Lee adds his own little twists and spins to the film that, for a while, entertain and intrigue. More than anything else in this film, the action and violence is styled stupendously. It’s all quick and crisp and the blood only makes everything all the more fun. The film has a famous scene where the protagonist takes out dozens of men with just a hammer and it was one of the better action sequences that I’ve seen this year. This film tries to reach a high level of interest and I applaud it for that.
Once you get past the few good things about this movie, the bad aspects of the film reveal themselves. The writing in this film is dreadful. The conversations are dull and the characters are poorly written. Sharlto Copley is severely miscast and his villain is almost a joke. I’m a huge fan of him as an actor, but this performance was not good at all. The reasoning behind the imprisonment is explained poorly and anything secretive about the film is revealed too early. Rather than finding everything out in one moment, hints are scattered throughout the film that lessen the ending’s impact. The lack of any feeling or emotion in the film makes it hard to enjoy what you’re watching and fans of the original will be sorely disappointed.
With too much time spent with Joe and his imprisonment, the rest if the story has to be told quickly without stopping to admire the absurdity of the story. Self discovery is almost nonexistent because the movie would rather solve its own problems before you get a chance. There’s a lot of unnecessary violence and gore that’s only added to elicit some response from the audience. While Brolin and Olson are fine, they don’t do enough to make this film enjoyable on every level. There is a great story and almost mythology behind Oldboy, but that’s only explored in the original film. Speaking of which, I’d suggest that you watch the original if you’re at all curious about this new film, or if you’re looking for something new and different. Yet again, the remake just can’t top the original and it all comes down to the real question; why did you feel the need to remake an amazing movie?