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Film reviews

Film Review: Spike old boy...you should have done better

"It's at times like these I wish I had a gun."

December 8, 2013

by Kieran Toms

IN THIS ineffectual remake of the 2003 South Korean film of the same name, Josh Brolin plays Joe, an arrogant advertising executive and lousy father who is mysteriously imprisoned in one room for 20 years. During this time his only contact with the outside world is through his TV, through which he learns that his wife has been murdered, his daughter adopted, and that he has been framed as the killer. It is in these scenes that we have the most sympathy for a character who is going through a range of emotions as he comes to terms with his imprisonment, before one day, without any explanation, he is released. The thrust of the film comes from his attempts to unravel the mysteries surrounding his captivity and to take his revenge on whoever was responsible.

Whilst his character does develop a little from the unpleasant alcoholic narcissist we see at the film’s opening, this isn’t enough to make him feel any more than one-dimensional. Elizabeth Olsen offers a more nuanced portrayal of Marie, an inner-city nurse who helps Joe in his quest for the truth but, like the other characters, still feels like a sketch fleshed out with cliché.

The main question facing Spike Lee in his remake of a much admired, highly stylised film like Old Boy was whether or not he would be able to stamp his own mark on it. He doesn’t manage it. Instead we are offered a watered-down version of the original. It is replete with the extreme violence of its predecessor, but here this feels more gratuitous than crafted.

That’s not to say that it is a film entirely without merit – it is short, punchy and action-packed enough to be enjoyable, and it has an arresting final twist. The problem is that almost all of these positive attributes were present in the first film, though better executed. It makes the whole endeavour seem rather pointless.
For a couple of hours of fast-paced, mindless action you could definitely do a lot worse than this film. However, the existence of an original and this film’s underwhelming nature means that it’s hard to shake the feeling that you could do a lot better too.

Oldboy (15)

Dir: Spike Lee; US thriller, 2013, 104 minutes; Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson.

Premiered December 5 
Playing Nationwide