On one fateful, unsuspecting evening, the troubled, alcoholic Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is kidnapped by a mystery woman, where he is taken to a soulless, solitary confinement. Confused of his whereabouts, Joe then proceeds to spend the next 20 years locked up in this very room, while in the outside world he is framed for the murder of his ex-partner and mother to his young daughter. However one day Joe is let free with little rhyme nor reason, and he naturally becomes obsessed with seeking revenge on those who locked him away. However before he embarks on this vengeful mission, he needs to try and figure who put him away, and why they felt the need to do, as he spirals deeper into a dark, excruciating world full of conspiracy and deceit, teaming up with affable stranger Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) to help get to the bottom of this horrendous set of events.
Though this following criticism is really only validated for those who have seen the original, frustratingly where this Oldboy remake suffers greatest, is within the fact many of us already know how it will conclude. The ambiguous, elusive set up to the original picture made for one of the great mystery thrillers of our time, and a very popular one at that, in what is generally considered to be a contemporary classic. So as this film is so heavily reliant on the ending and uncovering the answers to all of our questions – that entire aspect has been taken away for a large proportion of the audience. Though in fairness to screenwriter Mark Protosevich, he has brought this tale into the modern world with little contrivance, portraying a world where modern technology is intrinsically integrated into the way we live, and this uses smart phones and the internet as a means of driving the narrative forward.
Meanwhile Brolin turns in a more than commendable performance, playing the role of Joe with such conviction. When he’s a complete waste of space, stumbling around the streets inebriated, you believe in him. Then when he’s a clean-cut, determined man on a mission, you adhere to that too – as this fine actor has the audience onside throughout. What he doesn’t have, however, which his South Korean counterpart Choi Min-sik had in abundance, is that same level of unpredictability that served the original so well, with a distinct eccentricity and outlandish nature that created such a volatile ambiance. Brolin’s make-up is somewhat difficult to abide by too, as considering 20 years pass and he’s predominantly on a diet of Chinese takeaway and vodka, you’d think he’d come out the other end looking a little worse for wear (and older, perhaps?) and yet when he is finally released back into the outside world, he looks like a man who’s just come back from a relaxing weekend away in the South of France.
Nonetheless, Olsen impresses as you’d expect her to, while Samuel L. Jackson works well in a villainous, sadistic role, even if he is underused somewhat. However sadly the same can’t be said of Sharlto Copley, renowned for his terrific performance in District 9 this time turning in one he may want to forget, with a randomly (and poorly executed) British accent to boot. Though we’ve become somewhat used to being Hollywood’s go-to antagonists, in this case it feels unexplained and ultimately rather lazy.
Lacking in any palpable intensity and suspense, it’s a challenge to fully invest in this tale, as a film that is rather cold and emotionally withdrawn. If you really feel compelled to indulge in the Oldboy tale, then you’d just be so much better off seeking out the original production, as regrettably – and sadly somewhat expectedly – this is an unfulfilling, meagre endeavour for Lee.