Oldboy | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


A baroque thriller about an unexplained imprisonment suffers from an uneven tone


After a boozy night out in 1993, Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) finds himself imprisoned in a privately run cell, with no explanation. Twenty years later, he is just as mysteriously released — and he sets about learning who locked him and why. Spike Lee directs this American remake of Park Chan-wook's 2003 Korean crime drama.

The original was a dark, pulpy shocker whose broodiness and memorable violence made it compelling, and helped override its baroque plot. But Lee eschews the seriousness that grounds some Asian crime thrillers in favor of stuff Americans like: scenery-chewing Samuel L. Jackson, jokey violence and a lot of backstory filled in with TV broadcasts.

Brolin is good, but in this retelling, his character reacts more to others' action than from his own urgency. There's a notable lack of tension, when Doucett's agency is undercut by his passiveness or by ridiculous alpha-male scenes that wouldn't be out of place in a martial-arts comedy. Newcomers to the story may find the mystery, with its twists and feints, a moderately entertaining thriller despite its ludicrous plot. Fans of the Korean film should just treasure their memories.

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