Oldboy (18)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/12/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 103 mins

Spike Lee's remake of Park Chan-wook's 2003 thriller is a stylishly directed, solidly entertaining thriller with a terrific central performance from Josh Brolin, though it misses the intensity of the original film.

What's it all about?
Directed by Spike Lee, Oldboy is a remake of Korean director Park Chan-wook's 2003 thriller and stars Josh Brolin as absent father Joe Doucett, a hard-drinking, obnoxious ad exec who's mysteriously kidnapped by an unknown assailant and held captive in a windowless room for 20 years with nothing but a television for company. When he sees a TV news report, he realises that he's been framed for the rape and murder of his wife and that his little girl, Mia, has been taken into care.

After hitting rock bottom, Joe dedicates himself to becoming a better person, quitting booze (his unseen hosts provide him with a bottle of vodka a day), getting in shape and plotting an escape. However, just as he's about to break free, Joe is mysteriously released and with the help of his old bar-owning buddy Chucky (Michael Imperioli) and a beautiful young social worker (Elizabeth Olsen as Marie), he sets about trying to discover the identity of his assailant. However, he soon discovers that that's exactly what his enemy wants him to do.

The Good
Josh Brolin is excellent as Joe, particularly during the opening scenes when he's in a spiral of spectacular self-destruction (hitting on potential client's wives, etc.). Elizabeth Olsen is equally good as kind-hearted Marie and there's strong support from Michael Imperioli and from Samuel L Jackson, who's on top form as the private prison manager who's innovatively tortured by Joe. However, Sharlto Copley is distractingly mannered as Joe's tormentor Adrian, to the point where it occasionally feels like he's in a different film.

In-keeping with the look of Park Chan-wook's original, the film is stylishly shot and looks stunning throughout, courtesy of cinematographer Sean Bobbit (Steve McQueen's regular DoP). In addition, Lee ensures that several of the original's more surreal moments are present and correct (sadly not the eating-a-live-octopus scene, though that is at least alluded to) and delivers a number of thrillingly violent set-pieces, most notably the original film's single take shot of Joe taking out a number of thugs with a claw hammer, here expanded beyond a single corridor to a few levels of a parking garage.

The Bad
The film's biggest problem is that it lacks the sheer intensity of the original film – this is partly due to a tweak made to the plot involving Adrian's motivation (the accompanying flashback sequences are extremely weak, almost as if they were added as an afterthought). That said, Lee slightly improves on the ending of the original film with a climax that is less ambiguous but more dramatically satisfying.

Worth seeing?
As remakes go, Oldboy is surprisingly decent, thanks to stylish direction and a typically superb central performance from James Brolin. Not perfect but worth seeing.

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Content updated: 14/12/2017 15:18

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