"Old Boy" Review: Craig's First Take

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Obsessed with vengeance, a man sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked up into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason.
2.5

If you’ve seen the Korean masterpiece “Oldboy” from Park Chan-Wook (and if you haven’t, what’s keeping you?) you know its greatness was never going to be touched, even with this director and this cast. For some maybe this was going to hold some interest, like what would Spike Lee’s R-rated version of Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi’s comic book, on which the original is also based, look like or how would writer Mark Protosevich (“I am Legend”) re-work that bat-shit crazy ending?

The answer is that the filmmakers can never find visually striking scenes of their own and basically everything that Park gave such oomph to in the original feels watered down and lacking in impact. Josh Brolin does make a compelling case early on though as Joe, a functional alcoholic and absentee dad of a 3-year old daughter. This pathetic lush is kidnapped and locked in a room for 20 years, made to suffer several tortures, the least of which eating horrible tasting dumplings, and he gains perspective. This movie shows its hand too quickly. Joe is such a jerk that we can’t think this will be anything other than a moral tale, whereas the original kept us guessing. But Brolin works well in those kidnapped scenes.

He is eventually released and from there the film is primarily concerned with why this happened and who did it? Brolin gets considerably less compelling as the film goes on, the shameful past or a man tossed out into a much more hectic and tech-savvy world hardly ever seem to factor in. I also didn’t feel much for Elizabeth Olsen, playing a former drug addict who helps Joe primarily because the script tells her to. Samuel L. Jackson, with an insane blonde mo-hawk, is just distracting in an underwritten role. But worse is Sharlto Copley; taking the British villain to comically cartoonish levels, he almost seems like he should be stroking the goatee he sports.

Let’s see! The hammer fight from the original is still here but doesn’t look nearly as fluid. Lee misses out on the original’s twisted sense of humor and also can’t do much with the suspense or the heightened sense of tragedy at the films core. It can be bloody and brutal, but neither add much. And let’s face it, there may be a few changes here and there but this still feels like the same story with the same twist at the end, except that heightened tragedy and the total insanity of the plotting, which made the original ending so powerful for me, instead just feels workman-like and feather-weight here. The problem with remakes remains the same. They invite comparisons and very rarely are they ever good.