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Movie Review: ‘Oldboy’ (2013)

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FreedomOldboy is director Spike Lee’s newest film and it stars Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad, Men in Black 3), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), and Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium). The film is a reimagining of Park Chan-wook’s classic Korean film of the same name from 2003.

Joe Doucett (Brolin) is a mess. He is an alcoholic of the worst kind, in terrible shape, a deadbeat dad, and on his last legs in his job. Joe is basically a creep, which becomes unbelievably clear during a dinner meeting with potential client Daniel Newcombe (Lance Reddick). Things seem to be going well for Joe until he makes a crude pass at Newcombe’s girlfriend, Capri (Ciera Payton). Of course, Newcombe is not too happy about that and abruptly ends the dinner, but not before slapping the taste out of Doucett’s mouth.

Suffice it to say, it doesn’t get any better for Joe from there. He gets rip-roaring drunk (even for him) and roams the streets muttering incoherently and harassing street vendors. He eventually ends up at his friend Chucky’s (Michael Imperioli) bar. Chucky smartly denies his drunk friend anymore booze and tells him to go home. Joe wanders away from the door and runs into a mysterious Asian woman, the same one who seemed to be checking him out at the restaurant earlier. Chucky, feeling guilty, decides to let Joe into the bar. But when he opens the door, all Chucky sees is the rubber duck his friend left behind, but no sign of Joe. Thus begins one of the creepiest stories I’ve seen in long time.

I intentionally did not watch the original version of Oldboy, not because I didn’t want to watch it, but because I did not want to sit through Spike Lee’s joint constantly comparing the two. I wanted to enjoy the film and critique it on its own merits, not based on Wook’s film. Unfortunately, the film is a bit of a letdown only because it felt like it’s missing something. I honestly cannot quite put my finger on it, but something is lacking.

Marie and JoeIt definitely isn’t Josh Brolin’s performance because he is amazing. He plays the jerk-turned-prisoner-turned-vigilante extremely well (it doesn’t hurt that he is easy on the eyes). His character is driven to the lowest level a person can possibly go, living a life of maddening, almost psychotic routine for 20 years, then suddenly thrust upon a world he no longer knows. A telling moment, emphasizing how long he had truly been away, occurs when Doucett looks around and asks, “Where are all the pay phones?”  Ask a kid now what a pay phone is and all you’ll get is a blank stare.

Elizabeth Olsen’s performance isn’t lacking either. She continues to amaze me when I see her on film because she has such raw talent.  Olsen melts into her characters and performs with such fire, which is what she does in Oldboy.  As Marie Sebastian, a young social worker who is immediately drawn to Doucett, one forgets that Olsen has not been in many films because her talent is real. She takes chances with the roles she chooses and so far they have paid off. The chemistry she has with Brolin is apparent from Marie’s and Doucett’s first meeting, which makes what happens in the film all the more shocking.

AdrianI am not as enamored of Sharlto Copley’s performance, however, because I feel like it’s bit over the top, which I did not expect from this exceptional actor. His turn in District 9 was outstanding, so I was excited to see what he would do under Lee’s direction as the creepy billionaire Adrian. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy him as much as I had hoped, mainly because I did not find Adrian to be menacing or terrifying in any way. And his character had the potential to be both and so much more, which was disappointing.

I will not say do not see Oldboy, because it is still a disturbing film. Being confined to a small room with no windows or access to the outside world is terrifying to think about. To be shut away for 20 years and not know why you are being held, when you will be released, or who is keeping you prisoner bothered me after watching the film. It made me think of real people who have been held against their will for years on end, not knowing when they would ever see freedom again. Although many of them have been released, what did those years of captivity do to them mentally? What did it do to Joe Doucett and how was he able to cope with his sudden release? The only way to get the answers to those questions is to see the film.

Oldboy is currently in theaters.

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About Writergirl2009

Writergirl2009 is a Paralegal by day, but wishes to release herself from the tedium of her daily life to write full-time. She loves writing about films, televisions shows, books, music or people on the New York subway, where she currently lives (in New York, not on the subway).
  • bliffle

    I watched the Korean version a few years ago and was not impressed. YMMV.