★ / ★★★★
After almost closing a business deal and then derailing it, Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), an alcoholic, goes on a drinking binge despite the fact that he ought to be attending—sober—the birthday of his three-year-old daughter. He passes out in the street and wakes up in a motel room that is locked from the outside. He screams for help and demands to be let out. No cigar. Cameras around the room record his every move. Twenty years of living in a confined space with no human interaction and living off Chinese food, he is released. The game has only begun.
Although “Oldboy,” directed by Spike Lee, is a remake of Chan-wook Park’s cult favorite “Oldeuboi,” the former has enough differences in the final third to make the two pictures different from one another. However, that is not to suggest that the differences are particularly effective. On the contrary, I found myself quite passive to the revelations when they ought to be exciting or shocking. In the end, though I was not enraged by the denouement, I still thought the experience was a waste of time.
Lee’s film is well-shot and well-made, but it lacks a sinister mucosa. A sense of danger is a requirement in a story like this because this element pushes the viewers to ask questions, to lean in, to be as bewildered or confused or frustrated as the protagonist. Instead, the screenplay by Mark Protosevich prefers to show behavior rather than the inner workings of minds—the mind of a victim who had a chunk of his life stolen from him as well as the mind of a perpetrator (Sharlto Copley) who believes that his actions are justified.
Delving into the psychology of a person requires not only a slow unveiling of key information but also a sense of control of mood with respect to what is being revealed. Here, the mood, tone, and atmosphere remain constant and flat. As a result, Joe’s investigation, with the help of a nurse named Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), is uninteresting for the most part. I felt as though I was watching a pair follow a trail of crumbs—Point A to Point B—rather than starting at Point A and then having a choice to explore multiple paths that may or may not lead to answers that they wish to attain.
Copley is miscast as the man responsible for Joe’s imprisonment. Though he tries to be dangerous in voice and mannerisms, the whole charade comes off as a distracting performance, almost a caricature. He fails to communicate a level of seething anger. Perhaps a more natural approach might have been better. I wondered how our understanding of the mysterious character would have been different if someone like Mads Mikkelsen had played him.
“Oldboy” is a remake and there is nothing we can do to change that. I am not against remakes as long as I feel they are worth my time. Though a few scenes are well-shot— especially in the first half—its lack of nuance in terms of characterization and how the plot develops is an increasing source of disappointment. I was not convinced that the filmmakers really understood what ought to be extracted from the original and what should be changed in order to create a better piece of work.