Oldboy (2013) review

There is a scene in Oldboy where Copley’s character asks Brolin’s Joe Doucett to answer two questions. If you’re reading this then you probably have two questions that you want answered yourself. Firstly, is this as good as the original? Secondly, is this Oldboy actually the steaming eye-turd that some people are claiming it is?

I’ll put you out of your misery straight away and say that no, it’s not as good as the original – bar the odd exception (John Carpenter’s The Thing, I am looking at you!) very few remakes are. However, I also have to say that, in my opinion, this is also not the total stinker that many are making it out to be. There are problems here that is hard to ignore, but there are also a lot of things to enjoy. First of all, it looks great, but despite him doing a box-tickingly okay job, I don’t think Lee was entirely the right man for the job.

Using Rush as an example, that film didn’t feel like a Ron Howard movie – it was better, because it lacked some stylistic touches that actually made the film a much more realistic, less Hollywood and a more rounded film. Oldboy doesn’t feel like a Spike Lee film because it lacks the grit, passion, presence and realism that traditionally permeates his catalogue. There are moments of grit and there is violence but it feels, bar the odd graphic scene that makes you wince and genuinely (and sometimes literally) packs a punch, softened up and a bit like anyone could have directed it.

While Brolin is nicely cast, good to watch and does a decent job in the lead role there are some serious question marks elsewhere. Olsen is good, but needs more to play with so feels wasted. Jackson is... well...  Jackson, but leaves you wanting more than what we get which just feels like a bit of a Pulp Fiction retread. And Imperioli as bar owner Chucky? As with Olsen, he isn’t given any meat to put on his character’s bones. They all tick boxes though and make this watchable enough.

The big problem is Copley. He swings wildly between "Deliciously Demented Nemesis" and "Pantomime Villain" – a maniacally camp mix of Frank N Furter, Alan Rickman in Die Hard and Dr Evil – being so twisted at times that it is nasty fun, but at other times he is so bad you may laugh out loud. There is one moment towards the end of the film where he barks a section of dialogue and it actually made me burst out with a cackle because it was SO bad.

I didn’t feel like I wasted 104 minutes of my life and was it not a remake of such a solid, iconic and memorable film I think people would go easier on it. Oldboy isn’t a car crash of a movie but it’s just a bit pointless as a whole. It is artistically and atmospherically patchy and is, as result, little more than okay.

Oldboy (2013) at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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