Oldboy is a contorted revenge saga based on a Korean predecessor of the same name. The original is a revered classic which enjoys cult status; therefore any attempt at a reimagining would seem destined to go downhill.
The premise follows Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), a crass business executive with low morals who is abducted and imprisoned for two decades, bereft of any explanation. The film chronicles how he comes to terms with his solitary confinement and plots to seek redemption against his anonymous captor. His ordeal is assuaged by Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen), a clement nurse who aids his search for answers. However, unbeknownst to Doucett, the path to retribution is layered with climactic twists and turns at every step where he learns that revenge may not always be a dish best served cold.
The limited success of the movie lies in the actor’s abilities to channel authentic emotions in outlandish situations. Brolin, Olsen and particularly Sharlto Copley deliver resounding performances. Brolin is impeccable as the anti-hero, giving arguably the best performance of his career. The narrative allows him to illustrate a variance of emotions, ranging from recklessness and repugnance to rage. Prior to his incarceration, Doucett is an obnoxious scoundrel with zero accountability. However, once he flees his confinement, he is determined and hell bent on retaliation thus ensuring a compelling 180 degree turn for him.
Elizabeth Olsen is impressive in her delineation of a vulnerable young girl, despite having insufficient screen time. Nonetheless, she delineates plenty to leave a mark. However, the saving grace of the movie is Sharlto Copley, chief antagonist who orchestrates the entire exercise. His portrayal of the pantomime villain is blood curdling and insane in equal measure. Despite appearing late in the movie, Copley leaves a lasting impression.
The remake pales in comparison to the original and otherwise as well, owing primarily to the direction of Spike Lee. He fails to appropriately adapt the peculiar plot, which works only sporadically throughout. For instance, Lee’s inadequate execution renders a comical vibe to scenes depicting violence and gore. Another example is that the Doucett’s two decade incarceration seemed rushed; perhaps signifying that important footage was left on the editing floor.
A bizarre premise involving the central figure facing a twenty year stint in a motel room warranted skillful direction, which Lee fails to provide. Ultimately, even though it lacks the flair and spark of its predecessor, Oldboy works well on occasion because of a fascinating premise and its themes of karma, isolation and hatred.