Oldboy (R)

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Out for revenge:</span> Josh Brolin doles out some payback to Samuel L. Jackson.
Out for revenge: Josh Brolin doles out some payback to Samuel L. Jackson.
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / FILM DISTRICT

Movie Info

Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson. Michael Imperioli, Max Casella.

Director: Spike Lee.

Screenwriter: Mark Protosevich.

Producers: Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Spike Lee.

A FilmDistrict release. Running time: 104 minutes. Vulgar language, extreme violence, heavy gore, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.


A Hollywood remake of Oldboy sounds daunting, improbable and guaranteed to fail. Originally made in 2003 by South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, the movie, inspired by a popular manga, delved into thematic territory American movies rarely tread, had an unconventional plot structure and style and included instances of violence and other things (such as the eating of a live octopus on camera, its tentacles wriggling out of a man’s mouth) that would never pass muster with the ratings board — or, for that matter, the mainstream U.S. movie-going public.

One of the surprises of Spike Lee’s Oldboy is just how dark the film dares to get. Based on a sly script by Mark Protosevich ( Thor, I Am Legend), the story differs just enough from the original to give the new film its own identity. The setup is identical: In 1993, a loutish, alcoholic businessman named Joe (Josh Brolin) passes out and wakes up in a windowless hotel room, with only a television set, a Bible and an Encyclopedia Britannica for entertainment. Three times a day, a plate of food is slid under his door. Breakfast and lunch vary, but dinner is always the same: dumplings. No one speaks to him, no one interacts with him. We see time go by via images on the TV — 9/11, Obama’s election and, most troubling of all, a news report that reveals his estranged wife was murdered and all evidence points to him.

Over the span of 20 years, Joe goes from disbelief to anger to despair to resignation. On an Unsolved Mysteries-style show revisiting his wife’s murder, he learns his daughter, now 23, has been adopted by loving parents and is a talented musician. He writes letters to her constantly, begging her not to believe what she’s been told about him, but they remain unsent.

And then one day, Joe suddenly wakes up inside a trunk in an open field, dressed in a sharp suit, with a cellphone, a wad of $100 bills and the rest of his belongings. Park’s Oldboy was the middle film in a trilogy of pictures about revenge: The bulk of his movie followed the protagonist, who was rendered nearly insane and bestial by his imprisonment, as he set out to dole out payback to whoever kidnapped him without motivation and held him captive.

Lee’s version, too, is about revenge, although this Oldboy is shaped more like a detective story, with bursts of astonishing, brutal action. The movie throws in small but effective wrinkles and twists to throw off even those who know where the story is headed: It’s a neat bit of sleight-of-hand filmmaking.

Brolin, who got into fantastic shape for the role, is convincing as the businessman turned ultimate fighter — a bull running through china shops in search of his daughter. Lee reprises Oldboy’s signature scene, shot in one take, in which Joe takes on a never-ending wave of opponents in a narrow hallway armed only with a hammer (although Lee here again tries something different, he can’t top Park’s setpiece). Elizabeth Olsen is tender and believable as a social worker who believes Joe’s wild story and tries to help him on his quest, and Samuel L. Jackson kills as the man who operates the hotel-prison facility where Joe was held (as usual, Lee brings about the energetic best in Jackson; he has only two scenes, but you won’t forget either of them).

Lee peppers his movie with sly homages to the original (look for a cameo by the octopus, for example; still alive, happily) and he figures out a way to incorporate some of the more extreme elements of Park’s film (such as the infamous tongue scene) in ways that are more palatable to the multiplex. He also comes up with some improvements, replacing a near-unwatchable torture scene with something simpler yet more gruesome. So much of Oldboy works so well that it’s a huge disappointment when the movie loses its nerve in the climax, opting for a radically different and less subversive ending than the original. It’s not clear whether the change was the filmmakers’ idea or whether it was a compromise they had to make to get the movie financed. Park’s film ended on a note of beautiful, poetic horror designed to compel and repel. Lee’s Oldboy closes with a semi-happy shrug — an ending that is careful to tie up all loose ends and, in the process, makes the tense picture that preceded it easier to forget.

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">What’s the secret?</span> Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are a brother and sister trying to solve the mystery of a demonic mirror in ‘Oculus.’

    Oculus (R)

    Mirrors have been as much of a fixture in horror movies as knives and cats that suddenly jump from the shadows. But they’re best in cameos, as in the ending of Dressed to Kill or the bathroom scene in The Shining. Oculus revolves entirely around an ornate mirror that is, what, a gateway to hell? A summoning force for evil spirits? A really ugly piece of furniture from a medieval Pottery Barn?

Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman square off in a scene from ‘The Raid 2.’

    The Raid 2 (R)

    Every time you think The Raid 2 can’t possibly top itself, writer-director Gareth Evans goes “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” Most of 2011’s The Raid: Redemption took place inside a tenement raided by a SWAT team to apprehend a mobster and his squad of killers holed up inside. Practically no one survived the movie — the violence was astonishing — but the contained setting and the idea of having events grow hairier for the good guys the higher they went in the building gave the tight 101-minute movie a sense of compressed, relentless action. Now comes The Raid 2 (known as The Raid 2: Bernadal in its native Indonesia), which is far more expansive and complicated, and runs almost 2 ½ hours. Miraculously, the new picture makes the old one feel like Evans was just warming up.

A sexual addict (Charlotte Gainsbourg) visits a therapist (Jamie Bell) with unorthodox methods to try to help get over her compulsion in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’

    NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 2 (unrated)

    Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 (unrated)

    Things get really kinky in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, the second chapter in director Lars von Trier’ epic-length saga about a woman who can’t get enough. If you saw Vol. 1, which ended with our perpetually horny heroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) losing all feeling in her sexual organs, you might be wondering, “How could this movie outdo the first one?” To quote the great Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category