Josh Brolin’s character has every reason to seek revenge in Oldboy. He was taken captive by a mystery man and held in a windowless room for 20 years. And he began that incarceration by learning on the small TV in his new home that he had been framed for his wife’s murder which left his daughter a virtual orphan.
The fact that Brolin’s Joe Doucett uses a hammer to extol his vengeance is incredibly apt and metaphorical for the entire feel of the Spike Lee remake of the Korean classic.
The Korean Oldboy, itself based on Japanese manga, arrived in 2003 and is largely considered a cult classic for its brute power and twist that will leave you gasping for air. Lee keeps the twist, and it is one that even had journalists at Movie Fanatic’s screening stating out loud, “Oh my God!”
But, Lee does his own thing with it and that’s absolutely for the best. Korean director Chan-wook Park is not one to try to replicate. His Oldboy is a reinterpretation… as it should be. It might not pack the same punch as the original, but it is still very much a powerful cinematic experience.
The film is a pure vehicle for Josh Brolin and he owns it. From his less than savory bloated beginnings to his metamorphosis where he emerges -- inexplicably -- from incarceration as a lean, mean fighting machine is a study in honing acting power. Once he gets out he finds himself befriended by Elizabeth Olsen’s Marie. She is intrigued by his story and does everything she can to help him.
Joe not only has revenge on the mind, trying to retrace his path from freedom to incarceration to find the people who kept him locked up all those years, but also he wants to find his daughter to let her know he is not the monster society thinks he is. All of it is a tricky endeavor, given the fact that for all intents and purposes, he is a fugitive from justice. Lee manages to weave his characters in and out of dramatic situations with a flair that only comes from a director with decades under his belt.
Olsen too is a fine addition to the ensemble as she exhibits a care and sensitivity that is almost the opposite of what Brolin exudes. And three supporting players are utterly fantastic, although we cannot say much about Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley and Michael Imperioli’s characters for fear of giving away even an inch of the power that will be the film’s twist.
What works about the film, our Oldboy review can report, is that Lee makes it his own. For fans of the original Korean film, they may be disappointed in the overall presentation. But, that’s to be expected. A cult classic is a unique fixture in the movie world. Audiences take an ownership to it and rarely do they welcome someone else’s vision of it. But for those who have not seen the Park film, Lee’s movie should be one riveting experience at the cinemas. And it’s nice to see Lee tackle something he’s never done before as he does it with the power of… a hammer!