‘Oldboy’: Spike Lee’s vengeful, respectful homage to a cult favorite
By BRUCE INGRAM For Sun-Times Media November 26, 2013 4:40PM
Joe Doucett Josh Brolin
Marie Elizabeth Olsen
Adrian Sharlto Copley
Chaney Samuel L. Jackson
Chucky Michael Imperioli
FilmDistrict presents a film directed by Spike Lee and written by Mark Protosevich. Running time: 104 minutes. Rated R (for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language). Opens Wednesday at local theaters.
Updated: November 26, 2013 8:55PM
Forget what you’ve heard about revenge being a dish best served cold.
In this enormously unlikely but still satisfying paean to payback, it’s most definitely best served seething and with outrageous violence. Preferably with a large claw hammer in one hand.
That’s not to say the chilled variety isn’t stashed away in the fridge, waiting to be revealed in a twist ending (oh, so twisted) that effectively trumps all the hot-blooded craziness that precedes it. But in “Oldboy,” it’s the hot-blooded craziness that keeps things lively.
Star Josh Brolin (“Gangster Squad”) apparently secured the blessing of South Korean director Chan-wook Park before approaching director Spike Lee about remaking Park’s 2003 cult fave — though that didn’t stop fans of the original from shrieking in protest. For no good reason, as it turns out. While it’s true that Lee (approaching 30 years now since his 1986 debut with “She’s Gotta Have It”) stops a little short of the original film’s final note of vengeful perversity, it’s generally a respectful homage that has every bit as much stylishness and visual flair. Along with off-the-chain fight scenes and torturous tête-a-têtes that purely revel in no-nonsense savagery.
And there’s even a bit more character development thrown in as a bonus. Brolin plays Joe Doucett, your basic drunken, womanizing pig, who we first meet making a loathsome spectacle of himself in 1993 New Orleans. That’s a red-letter day for Joe because it’s his last day of freedom for a long, long time. After passing out on a sidewalk he wakes up in a locked motel room with a bathroom, a bed, and not much of a view — just a picture window with daytime and nighttime landscape scenes rotating automatically once a day. There’s a TV that shows teasy-sexy exercise commercials and old Kung-fu movies, and there’s also an intercom box on the wall, but no one speaks to him —ever. Someone slips fast food along with a pint of vodka into the room through a slot in the door a couple of times a day, and that’s his life. For the next 20 years.
Joe does get one piece of information from the outside world via TV: He’s been framed for the rape and murder of his estranged wife. And his captor enjoys torturing Joe with news of the young daughter he abandoned as she grows up without him. But that’s ultimately the source of his salvation, when he decides to reform and escape for her sake, giving up the sauce, conditioning his body and learning Kung-fu moves from TV reruns. Joe wants to prove himself worthy to be her father again, after personally pulling the heads, arms and legs off of everyone involved in putting him away.
Which is precisely what Joe sets out to do when he’s released one day just as abruptly as he was imprisoned, with the assistance of an old buddy (Michael Imperioli of “The Sopranos”) and former addict-turned-street-savior-and-romantic-interest Marie (Elizabeth Olsen). He has a colorful encounter with his former jailer, who’s played by Samuel L. Jackson (working with Lee for the first time since 1991’s “Jungle Fever”) in classic Samuel L. Jackson mode. An even more provocative meeting ensues with his mysterious tormentor (Sharlto Copley of “District 9”), who challenges him to figure out why he had Joe imprisoned — and promises to kill Marie if Joe fails.
That’s not a smart move on the bad guy’s part, you might be thinking — and you’ve got a point. But remember, there’s another sort of vengeance chilling in the fridge.