English Film Review
Spiked up but not True
Cast:Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, James Ransone, Samuel L.Jackson
Director: Spike Lee
Rating: * * *
This American version of Park Chan-Wook's Korean thriller of the same name, is Lee's most easy on the mind and exciting movie since "Inside Man”. It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but a reasonably lively commercial genre picture. The creatives lend it a hypnotic effect and the storyline has a strong enough hook to hold you in thrall. Yet, it’s the treatment that really Spike’s the show.
Spike’s version like Park's , tells of a drunken, abusive lout named Joe Doucette (Josh Brolin) who's imprisoned for a long time by a mysterious jailer. In 1993 , Joe was a pretty lousy human being - a drunk dad whose bad habits overwhelm his skill as an advertising man. Before he can be fired, though, he disappears, waking up in a private prison cell that will be his home for the next twenty years. When he is finally released, he's a fugitive, framed for the murder of his wife. His old friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli) takes him in, and with the help of a volunteer at a local free clinic (Elizabeth Olsen), he tracks down the man who held him prisoner (Samuel L. Jackson), and through him the man who ordered it done, (Sharlto Copley) who now has new leverage in Joe’s daughter , whom he threatens to kill unless Joe can figure out who he is and why he would do such a thing.
As Joe, the alcoholic ad executive, Brolin, himself troubled by alcoholism and having had several stints in rehab, does a convincing act. There’s a deeper dimension to his alcoholism- some long-held guilt that begs to come out in the final flurry. The film’s first half is a about guilt and punishment while the second concentrates on the New York underbelly, representative of the many minefields in Joe’s mind. The look and feel of the experience is not one of realism but that of a graphic novel come to life. Other than the emotions that get tapped, there’s nothing to make the experience feel real. Lee’s version is more pop than Park’s. The compositions in Lee's movie have an "illustrated" quality , marking them much like art-work framed for a page.
Oldboy has one of the greatest hooks in recent memory and an unlikely hook at that. Considering that the original version was manga, written by Garon Tsuchiya, there was little likelihood that ‘Oldboy,’ even Lee’s version would be re-imagined as a quasi-realistic thriller. Mark Protosevich's script shows the strain of trying to make that happen.
Loads of violence, sex, screaming, crying, bouts of revenge and stretches of fear are compiled in reasonably ingratiating fashion with supersaturated colors and disorienting angular cinematography.
Bruce Hornsby instrumental chorus enlivening the background sounds more like a modern urban version of a Greek tragedy. Spike Lee’s film is striking- it has an eerie form of entertainment a stylish goriness that lends disturbance to this revenge-thriller.
Some details are changed yet, for most, Lee's version retains the entire plot of Park's original. But in comparison, Park's remains superior. It was far more gruesome , the comic nature of it’s creative had a darker, in fact more blackened, doomed quality and it’s emotional histrionics were exaggerated yet real. Park's creation was not merely a genre pic, it transcended that for higher loftier goals- becoming a story of ruined souls and intense human agony. Lee had an imposing, almost impossible, act to follow , of course. And he does it in reasonable competitiveness. It’s a good-looking, never-boring, and compelling- but not like the original, which was far more!