A man (Josh Brolin) is held in confinement against his will for an unknown reason in Spike Lee’s adaptation of a Korean comic book and subsequent film. Suddenly, after 20 years, he is released and filled with vengeance as he tries to find the men who locked him away. To get to these people he uses the aid of a nurse (Elizabeth Olsen) and karate moves he learned from the television in his locked hotel room.
There are twists and turns throughout this film and the final revelation may leave some with a bad taste in their mouths no matter how much they liked the rest of the movie. I hesitate to give too much of the plot away because the less you know is probably better, so I’ll just talk about the performances from Brolin and Olsen. They are both terrific here even when the material may seem out of their comfort zone. Brolin, especially powers through the movie even when we learn early that he is not portraying a nice man.
That leads to one of the biggest problems with the film. We learn the protagonist isn’t someone who deserves our sympathy. Why should we root for someone who doesn’t have good morals? Meanwhile, director Spike Lee does nothing to help this problem and just doesn’t seem like the right director for this film. There are no memorable shots, set designs or editing decisions. It seems like a film from a first time director, not one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood.
I had seen the Korean version of this film which was made in 2003, so I knew the story. Even in the Korean film which was directed by Chan-wook Park, the final punch doesn’t hit hard and the viewer is left confused at times. I assumed that it was just something that was lost in translation, but I was proved correct by the English version of Oldboy. There are also plot holes aplenty and they are even more apparent when you aren’t reading subtitles. Other than Brolin, Olsen, and a half-hearted finale, there isn’t much to see in this Oldboy.
2 out of 5 stars