Combustible Celluloid
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With: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson
Written by: Mark Protosevich, based on the manga by Garon Tsuchiya, Nobuaki Minegishi
Directed by: Spike Lee
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence, disturbing images, some graphic sexuality and nudity, and language
Running Time: 104
Date: 11/27/2013

Oldboy (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Trunk Show

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Believe the hype. Spike Lee has directed a remake. His choice? Park Chan-wook's Oldboy (2003), an enormously popular movie among a small sector of cult movie fans.

The main problem is that Oldboy comes with a wallop of an ending, and Lee and screenwriter Mark Protosevich do not mess with it much. There's no real way to tell the story without it. Thus, anyone already familiar with the original -- or with the 1996 Japanese manga -- won't have much to be surprised about.

Additionally, the filmmakers prop up the story a little around the edges. Certain elements that were left purposely opaque in the previous film are now more thoroughly explained.

The good news is that, in the lead role, Josh Brolin gives a terrifically unhinged performance, almost worthy of predecessor Choi Min-sik. Lee's film spends more time setting up the character, here called Joe Doucett, establishing him as a bad father and a chronic alcoholic, thick and rude. After a bad business deal and a night of drinking, he's mysteriously abducted and locked in a room.

Twenty years later, he is released and left to figure out what happened and why. He's now sober and mean and can take down an entire football team with a few well-placed punches.

Elizabeth Olsen co-stars as a helpful nurse, Sharlto Copley overacts as the main antagonist, and Samuel L. Jackson -- his first time with Lee since his memorable "Gator" in Jungle Fever -- plays a sinister figure with a colorful haircut.

Lee's direction is hard and brutal, and while his more literal version loses some of the story's mystique by opening it up to unwanted questions, it also does not lighten up on some of the grislier elements. He pays tribute to some of the flourishes of the original film, such as a long fight scene captured in one tracking shot, and expands on them. Also, a squid makes a small cameo.

Oldboy is the first time that Lee has applied his vicious talents to exploitation, making something purely for visceral entertainment, and he's pretty good at it. He's always been good at button-pushing and now he proves he's good at gut-punching as well.

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