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DonRumsfeld

Oldboy Remake - Spike Lee directs Josh Brolin

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Oldboy (2013) - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1321511/

Obsessed with vengeance, a man sets out to find out why he was kidnapped and locked into solitary confinement for 20 years without reason.

Spike Lee's 'Oldboy' is so utterly neutered and plain that it makes me wish that the inital proposal for the Hollywood remake - that it star Will Smith and be directed by Steven Spielberg - had been realised, as at least that would have been interesting to watch; instead, we get a very thin and pale retread of the original that doesn't bring anything new to the table and fails to entertain in it's own right.

Brolin is great at the start of the film as the kind of asshole who you want to see get his comeuppance but he never really convinces once he's released from his twenty year imprisonment; he's frankly not insane enough for a man whose been put through what he has. Although he escalates into ultra-violence alsmost immediately*, he never truly appears dangerous, despite Brolin clearly putting the hours in at the gym to transform himself into a scowling hulk**. Also, good but poorly served by the script is Elizabeth Olsen. Her character does little but shuttle Brolin from A to B but she does well to realise a damaged young women with limited screentime.

Doing far from good work is Samuel L. Jackson, clearly phoning in his performance with most of his mind on the golf course but even he is outshown by how bad a performance Sharlto Copely gives. Saddled with an atrocious English (?) accent and looking like an extra from 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', his character is meant to be some kind of super-elaborate master villain (that's no spoiler by the way, it's clear he's the bad guy from the get go) but it just never works. He's so hammy and OTT that even when he's literally explaining his motivations you don't believe him. Copley can give great performances but you don't get one here.

All of these faults lie with the director, Spike Lee, who is utterly transparent in this film. There is not one shot, one line of dialogue, one ounce of wit that you would associate with a Spike Lee film other than a fleeting reference to Hurricane Katrina. Even a film such as 'Inside Man' which was well outside his wheelhouse, contained some sense of his personality. Here, it is completely gone; this film could have been made by anyone.

The two standout scenes of the original 'Oldboy'*** was the single-take hammer fight in the corridor and the "twist" ending. Both have been replicated in this version but like all else here, fail. The hammer fight is beefed up by taking place over two levels rather than a single corridor and it is done in one take and the choreography is impressive but that is half the problem - it looks like a dance rather than a fight. The bad guys rush in, dressed in weird, 90's street clothes and circle Brolin like they're going to have a dance off, waving their arms around and hopping from side to side, instead of the mad, scramble pile-on of the original. The ending is also beefed up, with Copley giving Brolin a walking tour of his "plot", which stretches out the reveal and renders it's impact mute. Copley's own backstory gets expanded and is shot in a very weird and artifical way, which is presumably what Lee intended and which perhaps explains Copley's performance. It's so bad that I found it funny, when as an viewer I'm clearly meant to be horrified.

That's the overall problem with this remake; it's just not horrifying enough. It's possibly one of the darkest stories put on screen, with no happy ending, just more pain for everyone but the film spectacuarly fails to convey this. I don't think the original is a particular masterpiece but it's leagues above this film.

I'd rate 'Oldboy (2013)' a very poor, one and a half out of five.

*One thing I've seen bandied about as a critiscism is how Brolin becomes proficient at fighting by watching Kung-Fu films during his captivity. On the surface, yeah, that is laughable but I don't remember it being a point of contention in the original, where it plays out the same way; was it more acceptable because O-Dae Su was Asian? So racist.

**I've talked at length before about the character of Parker, Donald Westlake's career criminal, who's been portrayed on screen many times, by actors such as Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Mel Gibson and (sigh) Jason Statham. He's my favourite literary creation and he's never been done right onscreen; while watching this I constantly kept thinking how Brolin would be perfect for the role. He's got the look down pat and the blank, slab of grantite face. THE CAMPAIGN STARTS HERE.

***Excluding the live octopus eating of course, although there is a scene in this where Brolin looks at one in a fishtank so that you can think to yourself "Oh yeah, I watched a better film than this once; what the fuck am I doing with my life?."

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Having saw Oldboy many years ago I watched the remake tonight, ready to criticise it from the first minute. But, I actually like Spike Lee's version. It's not that different from the original but apart from the hammer fight comedy dance off I couldn't really see anything else wrong with it. Is it as good as the original? No, but it's by no means a bad film. Josh Brolin was a good choice for the lead.

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Oh my god I always knew the remake was pointless and bad but it's also actually embarrassing. Yikes!

 

 

Oh and Spike Lee is a tool. 

 

EDIT: Ah the ol' 'Neg-And-Run". Sorry next time I'll post a transcript of the review instead because "video bad mkay".

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I saw this recently too, and I quite enjoyed it. I was thinking though, if they wanted to keep a twist ending with an impact like the original, they could've turned it on its head and have him carry on the relationship, keeping the knowledge of them being related to himself. 

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