Who knew Josh Brolin had such skills with a hammer? That was one of the thoughts I busied myself with in order not to think about the blood, guts and vomit gushing out at me from the movie screen. Spike Lee’s newest movie, “Oldboy” is not his worst movie, but it certainly is not one of his best. In reality, my lack of enthusiasm doesn’t have anything to do with the violence…it’s the lack of intellect that I normally associate with a Spike Lee movie that disappoints me.
With screenplay by Mark Protosevich, “Oldboy” is based on the 2003 South Korean film, “Oldboy,” directed by Park Chan-wook. That film is actually based on the Japanese manga (comic) of the same name by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi. Suffice to say, the new film brings with it a cherished history.
Oldboy begins in 1993 in an unnamed city, but one looking very much like a dirtified New York. Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is an advertising executive on the skids. He disrespects clients, is a neglectful father, is on the warpath with his ex-wife and his alcoholism is completely out of control. Finally, in October, after an especially horrific night of drinking and debauchery, he gets picked up by the wrong person. He wakes up the next morning to discover that he is imprisoned in a hotel-like room where he will remain for the next 20 years. But why has this happened? Doucett has no idea. Daily he’s fed a diet of rice, Chinese dumplings and a bottle of vodka. Alone with just a television and remote control for company, he unsuccessfully attempts suicide. It’s only when he spots a news report announcing the murder of his wife with him as the prime suspect in her death, that he stops drinking and begins a strenuous workout regimen, waiting for his opportunity to escape, find his daughter and exact his revenge on whoever did this to him.
Josh Brolin is actually very good as Doucett. He makes his early scenes extremely painful to watch and in the confines of his solitude, somehow wins your sympathy. And for a big man, he’s more graceful than one might expect in the fight scenes in which he uses all parts of his body. Samuel L. Jackson provides an entertainingly sadistic turn as one of the men watching Doucett from afar. Elizabeth Olsen gives a quietly powerful performance as someone who befriends Doucett as does Michael Imperioli as Doucett’s longtime friend. Less successful is Sharlto Copley‘s portrayal of the mysteriously sinister man in the shadows.
Because this film takes it lead from the South Korean film, the fight scenes are more balletic in nature, using a variety of weapons to execute bodily harm. What is odd is that gangs—almost “West Side Story” in nature—seem to pop up from out of nowhere and police are nowhere to be found. But the final third of the film is what really hurts “Oldboy.” Somehow the payoff just doesn’t ring true…not for the elaborate imprisonment of someone for 20 years.
I hope the next Spike Lee film feels truer to his heart. What he has done, however, is make me want to see the original film and found out what so intrigued him.