Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
Personally, I don't why any Hollywood studio would sanction a remake of Chan wook Park's cult classic 'Oldboy', and I actually enjoyed Spike Lee's remake to a degree.  Not as much as the original, but it had value, and dare I say, there are a couple of things this movie actually improves on.   But check it out… we have this film in which the people that love this film… really love this film.  It's in my personal top ten of the best films ever made.  Thus people who hear of a remake are largely going be vehemently opposed to it… and they were.  Attacked it before it even had a chance to breath.  Even if this were the best movie ever made, there is very little chance that this vocal opposition would find anything to praise about this movie.  Then let's say you saw 'Oldboy' 2003 and hated it, because quite honestly, it's kind of a messed up movie.  Considering the remake pretty much follows the same path, there's very little chance you are going to like what you see here in 2014 anymore than what you saw in 2003.  Highly unlikely.  Thus what we have here is what they call a Zero Sum Game.  There is no way to win.  Don't know why they even tried.

There are jerks, and then there's Joe Doucette (Josh Brolin) who is just one of the most distasteful people you will ever want to avoid.  Loud, obnoxious, a drunkard, slow witted, a terrible husband, a terrible father… Joe is awful.  One day, Joe wakes up in a hotel room.  Simple enough… just leave, right?  Unfortunately, Joe will not leave that room that he entered in 1993 until the year of 2013.

The first few years were tough for Joe as he simply tried to drink his way out of his condition, then he saw the news story about the murder / rape of his ex-wife, of which he has been falsely accused, coupled with his daughter being carted off to foster care and eventually Joe decided to make a change.  He doesn't know when he's going to get out, but he's going to clean his system of that alcohol, take better care of his body, learn to kick ass and when he does get out… he's going to make his captors pay dearly.
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After twenty years, Joe is released.  Joe has a simple goal, find his daughter to make up for lost time and kill the people that put him away.  Along the way he meets the pretty lady in Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) who also been through some things in her life and lives only to help those who need help, and she has decided that she will help Joe find his daughter and also help him discover who stole his life.

Joe will experience quite the adventure, running into a smarmy character named Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson) who actually runs the place he stayed, though he didn't have anything to do with putting him away… Joe makes them all pay anyway… until he meets the man who did put him away.  This man, who is a lunatic if ever there was one, will tell Joe all he needs to know, and return his daughter to him if he can tell him who he is and why he put him away.  Joe will not like the answers that he finds.

One of the things I had heard from the filmmakers in regards to this remake was that it is going to actually stay closer to the manga source material as opposed to the Park film.  Well… that's not true.  I read the manga, and this movie pretty much just copies the Korean original plus or minus a few elements.  Another thing that concerned me about a remake of 'Oldboy' 2003 is that the first film was so messed up that I couldn't imagine an American remake embracing the warped nature of that original, gosh darn… this one was actually worse.  Took things a little bit further.  That was a surprise.

Now I'm not going to try not to take too much time comparing the two films but I did say the this one did improve on a couple of things, one of these being economy with this one taking a little less time to reach the point of the film, and then the other being Sharto Copely.  Sharto Copely is just a really amazing actor and his villain is more fleshed out and better presented than the villain in the original.

But enough of the comparisons, how is the movie itself?  Hmmm… this is going to be really difficult to do without comparisons, but we will try.  While Spike Lee might not be the most popular guy in the room, he is still a very skilled film director no matter what anyone wants to say about the man, and he handles this very challenging film about as well as can be expected.  He keeps everything contained, he keeps the story moving relentlessly forward, and most importantly he stays out of the way.  Spike has a style, but for the most of the film he just lets the story tell itself with the bare minimum of his typical Spike Lee cues. 

The acting was pretty solid from top to bottom.  In addition to Mr. Copely, Josh Brolin stamping his own signature to the character of Joe, Samuel L. Jackson doing that thing he does, and Elizabeth Olsen is really cute.

But yet I still find myself unable to separate the original from this version, probably because the original left such an indelible mark on my psyche, and the new film, despite the fact it is a very solid, drum tight, well produced, and well directed film.  It simply cannot match the visceral attitude set by the original.  If that movie did not exist, then this movie… while not great… would still be getting a lot more love.  But then if that movie didn't exist, then neither would this one.  Zero Sum Game.
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