Revenge is Anything but Sweet in Garishly Violent Oldboy
- Wednesday, November 27, 2013
DVD Release Date: March 4, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: November 27, 2013
Rating: R (for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language)
Run Time: 104 min.
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharito Copley, Michael Imperioli, Max Casella
Love him or loathe him, Spike Lee has made a career out of rattling cages, particularly in regard to past and present race relations. With everything from the critically panned Miracle at St. Anna to the one-two punch of Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever that helped solidify his place as one of America’s most controversial filmmakers, what will inspire Lee next is always anyone's guess.
In fact, in 2006, Lee threw a proverbial curveball to the masses with a straight-up thriller, Inside Man. Proving he could make an engaging film that was light—or at least, lighter—on social commentary and heavy on the high-stakes action, Lee showcased a more accessible, cerebral side and was granted an upcoming sequel (no release date has been announced yet) for his efforts.
Still, Spike being Spike, unpredictability is part of his appeal, so remaking a 2003 Korean cult classic with Oldboy probably made perfect sense to him. An unsettling revenge tale with questionable timing considering that family holidays don’t typically scream let’s-see-a-garishly-violent-vengeance-film-where-people-are-obliterated-with-hammers, Oldboy is like a darker, grittier Count of Monte Cristo without any of that pesky food for thought.
Yes, other than the perverse pleasure that’s taken in showcasing graphic sexuality and hurting people in garishly violent ways, something that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have already cornered the market on, Oldboy's greatest crime is that it’s basically all spectacle for spectacle's sake. Without anything resembling a point of view to anchor it, an oddity for a Lee film, Oldboy comes across a strangely apathetic waste of time.
Really, the only thing Oldboy has remotely working in its favor is Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad), who could probably play a depraved character like Joe Doucett in his sleep. Tackling the role of a deadbeat dad with a major drinking problem with aplomb, Brolin expertly rolls with the punches, even when the story truly goes off the rails (and trust me, it doesn't take long for Oldboy to descend into utter madness).
After waking from his latest drunken stupor, Joe finds himself in a seedy hotel room without the benefit of windows or a working phone. What Joe does have to mark the passage of time, however, is a television, which doesn't exactly have good news for him either. As it turns out, he's the prime suspect in the rape and murder of his ex-wife, and chances are, he won't see his young daughter again either.
Not sure how he landed in this situation, who is responsible, or if he'll ever escape his drab surroundings, Joe spends the next two decades as a prisoner. Thanks to someone who reliably delivers the same Chinese dumplings day after day, though, Joe doesn't starve, and because of the television access, he spends his time learning martial arts, a useful skill for the future, perhaps?
Funny enough, it's just when it looks like he's going to be stuck at a Motel 6 for the rest of his life when someone finally decides to free ol' Joe. Knowing he'll want to discover the identity of the person/people who stole his freedom—and why—the road to redeeming those lost years isn't exactly paved with possibility. If anything, being stranded at a dingy hotel was the least of his worries.
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