Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher
|Featuring:||Elizabeth Olsen … Marie
Josh Brolin … Joe Doucett
Samuel L. Jackson … Chaney
Hannah Ware … Donna Hawthorne
Sharlto Copley … Adrian Pryce
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|Producer:||40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks
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“Ask not why you were imprisoned. Ask why you were set free.”
In 2003, South Korean director Chan-wook Park brought a new twist to the revenge thriller with the release of “Oldboy,” a highly stylized vengeance tale about a man imprisoned against his will for 15 years with no idea as to why he is being held. The film was the first of Park’s “vengeance” trilogy and put South Korea on the cinematic map as a place to watch for promising new voices in world-wide cinema.
Well, spring forward 10 years, and Hollywood has turned to the “remake” formula once again and hired it’s own auteur Spike Lee to bring a fresh perspective to the 2003 film that has been deemed by some as a classic.
The film centers around Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), a struggling ad exec whose greatest flaw is his inability to control his primal instincts. He drinks excessively, he is disrespectful to women, he is a philanderer and, most importantly, he has a great misappropriation of what he deems important. When given the opportunity to attend the birthday of his 3 year old daughter, he chooses business over family, all after cussing out his ex-wife in a long string of mutually hateful expletives.
In a drunken state, he has a one night fling with a mysterious woman and wakes up the next morning in a locked, darkened hotel room with just minimal necessities. He doesn’t know it, but Joe will spend the next twenty years confined to these quarters without ever knowing why he is there or who is responsible for him being captured.
While being held against his will, he learns that his wife has been killed and that his daughter Mia has become an orphan. At that point, he decides to turn his life around and become a better person for Mia.
Almost as inexplicably as his capture, after years of confinement, he is suddenly released. This long duration has allowed time for self-reflection and physical improvement. It has also allowed him time to create a list of who is responsible and how he intends to exact his revenge.
Upon his release, Joe is befriended by good-Samaritan Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen—“Silent House”), a women who works for “The Innocent Project” who instantly finds sympathy for Joe and pledges to help him find his daughter, as well as assist his quest to find the people responsible for taking away 20 years of his life.
The rest of the film, at least two-thirds, follows Joe on his quest to exact revenge. Along the way he crosses paths with Chaney (Spike Lee regular Samuel L. Jackson). Their interaction starts with a string of profanities, most of the “mf” variety, and ends with a very graphic and violent torture scene that most audiences members will find difficult to watch.
As far as the overall quality of the film is concerned, as noted, this is a remake of a 2003 South Korean film, and if anyone is inclined to see this, I would suggest they watch the far superior original. This remake almost begs the question as to whether this version should have been made to begin with, however this isn’t the first, nor will it be the last film to generate that debate. Be FOREWARNED, if you decide to see the 2003 version, much of the violent and objectionable material in this version can be directly traced to the original. There are additional scenes in the Park version that are far more disturbing.
Before getting into the list of items that many viewers will find objectionable, and there are quite a few, I will note that there is an element that figures heavily in the plot of the film, that, if revealed, would greatly diminish the potential element of surprise for the viewer. If you’ve seen the original, it remains intact in this version. Suffice to say, this thematic “twist” near the end of the film will undoubtedly upset and disturb many viewers.
That being said, there is plenty of other material most viewers will find offensive. The one most pervasive is the area of violence/gore. The violence is very graphic throughout the film; deaths usually come at the sharp end of a claw-hammer. There is a scene (intact from the original) where Joe dispatches about 40 men only with the aid of his hammer. People are stabbed, cut and impaled.
There is a scene of a woman getting her throat slit, a man shooting himself, a family getting systematically shot with a shotgun and most notably a prolonged torture sequence involving a man being tied down with his hands nailed to a table and a razor-sharp Xacto-knife being the weapon of choice to extract more than just the truth. Suicides also figure prominently in the story.
Anyone who has seen any of Samuel L. Jackson’s previous work is pretty familiar with Mr. Jackson’s penchant for four-word expletives, particularly his inventive uses of “m.f.”; you may recall his vivid description of a certain type “plane” with certain types of “snakes”. This performance is no different, and there are multiple instances of the f-word, as well as at least a dozen profane words of other varieties. There are a handful of misused references to Jesus and God.
Lastly, there are a number of scenes involving sex and/or nudity. When he first discovers that he is confined to a room, Joe is naked, and he walks around the room, and we see his backside. A woman’s backside is seen through see-through lingerie. There is a room with paintings with various stages of women undressed. There is a scene of a man “pleasuring” himself under a pillow. There is also a sex scene involving a man and a woman, where the woman’s breasts are exposed and both of their backsides can be seen as they move from position to position.
The material that many Christian viewers will have trouble with is the thematic emphasis of the film, and that is vengeance. After his release, Joe’s whole purpose in life is two-fold, find his daughter and kill anyone involved with his capture. Though one could justify the route he chooses, the Bible is clear about who vengeance belongs to.
As alluded to earlier, there is a very surprising plot twist to this film which will undoubtedly garner the film some favorable reviews. This twist, as well as stylistic cinematic techniques, is what brought the original film its acclaim. However, with the existence of the 2003 version, it’s hard to justify recommending this 2013 version, let alone coming up with a compelling argument as to why it needs to exist in the first place. But that’s another topic for another day.
“Oldboy” (2013) is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour 44 minutes.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
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