Oldboy is a prime example of how not to write a screenplay. Having neither read the original comic nor seen the original film that this one was based on, I don't know whether to blame the source material or the screenplay's author, but this movie is rife with one of the worst sins that a plot can have. And the sad thing is, I started off really interested and somewhat liking this movie.
Our story opens on Joe Doucett, an advertising executive who is a chronic alcoholic, horrible to his wife, neglectful to his daughter, and a giant asshole whenever he thinks he can get away with it. His comeuppance quickly gets served, though, as he is nabbed off the street and imprisoned alone in what appears to be a motel room. He starts to gradually lose his mind in his isolation, with only his television as company. However, he sees in a news report that he has been framed for the rape and murder of his wife, leaving his three-year-old daughter as an orphan. Fast-forward over the next twenty years, and Joe has turned himself into an alcohol-free fighting machine, self-trained through exercise tapes and martial arts movies. He has vowed to escape his prison, exact revenge on those who imprisoned him, and find his daughter. Josh Brolin handles portraying this transformation well, even if it does come off as a bit of a contrived redemption when his change of heart isn't even the focus of the movie.
Unfortunately, Brolin can't save the movie from itself. In the course of a potentially successful escape attempt, Joe is knocked unconscious and wakes up... outside his prison in a suitcase. Alright, I guess I'll roll with it. And then he runs into a nurse who... feels the need to come to his rescue later in the movie after having barely met the guy. And of course, she becomes his love interest. You see, here is where the movie starts to fall apart. Plot points just start happening without any provocation. As an audience member, one can see how the movie is going from Point A to Point B, but the internal logic to the characters' actions and motivations is shaky at best. Why is it that when Joe brings his story of being locked in a room for twenty years and being framed for his wife's murder to his bartender friend, that friend doesn't question that ridiculous story in the slightest? When Joe collapses from exhaustion, why does the friend call 911, then hang up on 911 and call that nurse instead? Pure plot convenience, that's why. The writer needed a way to move the story along, and he was too lazy to come up with a good reason why anything needed to happen the way it does. And the plot ultimately resolves itself into one of the most amazingly contrived plot twists I've ever seen. I won't spoil it in case anyone decides to actually watch this disaster, but I will say that it's something that could have worked decently well if the film hadn't bungled its plotting so horribly along the way.
With the exception of Brolin and a later-introduced Samuel L. Jackson, the performances range from being wooden and lifeless to cartoonishly over the top. Brolin does well with his scenes of isolation in the first half of the film, and, though silently brooding for the rest, works well with the script he was given. Jackson's role seems pretty much written for him, being his larger than life badass self in what is, unfortunately, an all too fleeting role. However, as much as these two are a joy to watch in most other roles they fill, their talent is severely underutilized here in this pathetic tale where every other actor is clearly either trying too hard or disinterested in even trying at all.
If you are hoping that some fun action scenes can save this storytelling train wreck, then I'm sorry to inform you that just isn't the case. Most of Joe's kills happen in a matter of seconds, and while gratuitous, they aren't really anything new or spectacular. A couple of nameless baddies get their heads smashed in with a hammer. Whoopee. The only thing that resembles an actually realized fight scene is shot on a two-dimensional plane, where a bunch of guys surround Joe and wait for him to beat them all up one at a time. It felt like I was watching someone play a high-def version of a 1980s beat-em-up game. It was lazy cinematography, lazy choreography, and lazy directing.
In fact, that's exactly the right word for this movie: lazy. I know that Spike Lee is a better director than this, and something tells me that he only agreed to do this film as part of a deal to get funding for a better movie. The entire production feels phoned in and seems like what a studio executive would think is a great way to squeeze a few more dollars out of the original international hit movie. Don't waste your time with this one, folks. It deserves to be locked away like its protagonist, but never let back out.
So what are your thoughts? Was this the scathing criticism you wanted to see? Or do you think I was too hard on the old boy? (Ha, get it? Old boy? Oldboy? ...Shut up. I thought it was funny.) Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.