"Oldboy,” Spike Lee’s remake of the South Korean cult thriller, is now in theaters. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for NY1.
Josh Brolin, with his handsome, hangdog scowl, is like Nick Nolte’s volatile younger brother, and in Spike Lee’s rivetingly intense “Oldboy,” he gives a terrific and harrowing performance as a slimeball out for justice.
Brolin’s Joe Doucett is a divorced, alcoholic macho screwup. After a bender, he wakes up to learn that he’s been sealed into some bizarre, windowless “Twilight Zone” of a hotel room, where he’s served daily rations of Chinese dumplings and cheap vodka. He has no idea who kidnapped him or why, and that’s the film’s central mystery. But in a larger sense, we do know why: this is karma’s way of teaching a bad old boy a lesson.
Remaking Park Chan-wook’s infamous 2003 South Korean cult thriller, Lee sticks reasonably close to the plot of the original “Oldboy,” but more than that, he has made the first American film that fully conjures the violently perverse spirit of a sadomasochistic Asian revenge drama.
Joe stays in his hotel-hell prison for 20 years, during which he learns (through a tabloid-TV crime show) that his ex-wife has been murdered, and that he’s been framed for the killing. When he is suddenly released, he’s free to hunt down his enemy, and to find his now-grown daughter.
Much of “Oldboy” is gruesomely violent. Joe bashes men with hammers and tortures a video-surveillance expert, played by Samuel L. Jackson, done up like a sci-fi peacock. Yet the puzzle Joe pieces together unfolds with an arresting logic, even as it’s bathed in blood.
Elizabeth Olsen is sensual and urgent as the medical worker who falls under Joe’s desperate spell, and Sharlto Copley, as an enigmatic billionaire, hypnotizes you with his wounded malevolence. (Please cast this man as a Bond villain.)
In the end, the most impressive performance may be Spike Lee’s. In “Oldboy,” he uses skill without gimmickry, flash without fuss, to tap the mesmerizing soul of this pulp.