In Spike Lee’s Oldboy, Joe Doucett (played by a greasy Josh Brolin) sets out to get vengeance on the man who had him imprisoned for 20 years. To make the story more interesting, this mysterious man, played by a creepy Sharlto Copley, has Joe’s daughter and is threatening to kill her.
Director Spike Lee’s name is synonymous with terms such as great director, auteur and ground-breaking. Rightly so. Lee is an awesome director who has brought black consciousness to the masses. However, his latest foray, Oldboy, leaves a lot to be desired, such as a coherent plot. Granted, Lee is still a swell director, but bad writing is bad writing.
In the script, written by Mark Protosevich (based on the Korean version of the same name written by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi), the audience is first disgusted by Joe’s sickening alcoholism, then by his ultra-weird imprisonment in solitary confinement, then by his gruesome rampage and lastly by the super-weird back story of his captor.
I’m sure this film did well in Korea, but certain things just don’t translate in American viewing audience terms. Weird is weird.
I won’t spoil the entire plot for you, as you may want to see Oldboy at your own peril or to try to make sense of the title. If it’s for the latter, that’s not necessary. Seeing the film will allow the title to make even less sense. Just keep in mind that this is, at its core, a dude flick with awesomely bad writing.
It’s also a film in search of a mystery/thriller plot. We, the audience, are supposed to be intrigued by the unknown captor(s) who unjustly holds Joe captive. There is some interest. But it fades the moment it’s realized that this film isn’t even trying to make sense.
Copley, who once played a bumbling idiot human in District 9, has done it to me again. He has disappointed me a la District 9 and caused me to question why this film was made in the first place. I actually find myself nostalgic for District 9. At least that film has a coherent plot.
In the acting category, Copley is worth his casting. The “stranger” that he plays, Adrian, is a formidable villain for Joe and lives up to being quite strange. He’s also one mustache curl away from being a cliché. Thankfully Copley shows some restraint.
The same can’t be said for Brolin, who kicks some serious bad guy butt and gets his own butt handed to him, as well. Brolin is no stranger to being a tough guy; he’s in his element in that regard. But as a sad sack drunk? He’s superb. Any actor who’s willing to sleep on the dirty ground in his own vomit is showing some form of range.
The film is especially horrible when Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Chaney, is tortured.
It was torture for this audience member to have to watch and it begs the question: what is wrong with Spike Lee? Not to mention Jackson is a little too good at being the black villain to Brolin’s white hero. Frankly, Jackson’s portrayal is a little on the Blaxploitation side; reminiscent of his Stephen in Django Unchained.
Rounding out this ragtag group is Michael Imperioli as Joe’s BFF Chucky. Elizabeth Olsen shows a lot of skin as Marie Sebastian, Joe’s nightingale. And, Lance Reddick (HBO’s The Wire) takes a turn as Daniel Newcombe, an entrepreneur in the auto industry.
A few years ago, it was said that Lee could not secure studio funding for his projects anymore. With the critical bomb that was Red Hook Summer and Oldboy sure to follow in its footsteps, it’s understandable. If Lee is going to call Tyler Perry out for Madea, then the audience should call Lee out for this film.
It’s the pot calling the kettle black. It is unfortunate, because we all know Lee is capable of producing much better product than this.