Ahhhh, the joys of yet another Hollywood remake of a classic. This remake is based on the Korean cult classic Oldboy (2003). Spike Lee’s ‘reimaging’ (a fancier word for remake) retains the basics of the original’s plot in which Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) finds himself locked in a hotel room following a drunken night out. Whilst in prison he is framed for the rape and murder of his wife, and he is forced to watch various news reports concerning the murder.
He spends twenty years in the motel room as the major American events (such as the inauguration of Presidents Obama and Clinton and the 9/11 attacks) pass him by. After these twenty years he is eventually released and embarks on a mission of vengeance, meeting Elizabeth Olsen’s Marie along the way. Marie, sympathizing with him, helps him on this quest for vengeance.
The biggest and most frequent question that arises when discussing a remake is whether a remake is justified in existing. Spike Lee’s remake of the Korean cult classic doesn’t justify its production despite making a few alterations to the story but none of these changes really warrants a remake. The changes made are so ineffectual to the overall story that it is staggering that a film which Spike Lee has called a ‘reimaging’ remains so remarkably similar to the original Korean film.
Lacking in urgency, Spike Lee’s Oldboy has a distinct visual style (the film is certainly superbly shot by Sean Bobbitt) but it is lacking tension and also lacks any considerable sting in the film’s tail despite the dark and distirubing themes. Still, visually the film is excellent, the editing is efficient (except the bits enforced by the studio) and the cinematography is exemplary but the film is let down by complete lack of depth in the theatrical cut, perhaps more could be found in Spike Lee’s original 140 minute cut before the studio poked their noses into the film’s post production. Studio interference left a rather malnourished and thin picture starved of any character development.
Josh Brolin is fine in the lead role, but he struggles to gain any sympathy for his character because how unlikeable Joe actually is. Brolin’s fine central performance is short of any decent support from Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley. Olsen’s forgettable performance is more down to the fact that her character was poorly written and Sharlto Copley’s performance is so utterly without merit because his performance is so camp that it is about as menacing as a baby mouse. Sharlto Copley adopts the type of voice that would fit someone who wondered into a room with two people having sex and saying ‘oh, I’m terribly sorry’ before hesitatingly leaving in a sheepish manner.
Oldboy is a good looking picture, it is well shot, but it seems to have been interfered with by outside forces resulting in a film that is lacking in any real development. Perhaps Spike Lee’s 140 minute cut improves upon these flaws.
As Robert De Niro approaches the end of his career his performances are somewhat lazy and lacklustre and with The Family he continues that trend as he sleepwalks to his next pay check, phoning in his performance. The De Niro of old is something we long for and his performance in The Family is another disappointing one. Of course the blame can’t be laid entirely on the doorstep of De Niro as Luc Besson fails to join the two jarring tones of dark violence and comedy as the film trots along slowly before anything of any real interest actually happens. Besson regularly fails to bring any humour as his attempts at satire go amiss, resulting in a mostly laugh free dark comedy.