Oldboy remake (2013): Film review - sympathy for Spike Lee's Mr Vengeance

(18) Spike Lee, 105 mins Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copley
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Spike Lee's remake of the cult South Korean thriller opens like a baroque version of Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend. Josh Brolin is Joe Doucett, a divorced alcoholic on a self-destructive rampage round a modern American city.

It's 1993. He's a salesman with a deal to close but his obnoxious, drunken behaviour lands him in the gutter. It's at this point he is imprisoned in a cell made up to look like a motel room and framed for murdering his ex-wife. Twenty years later, he's released and ready for revenge against his unknown tormentor.

To complain that Lee's version of Oldboy is preposterous is to miss the point. The film is intended to be lurid, bloody and as wildly over-determined as the most far-fetched Oedipal tragedy. Some of the performances (notably Sharlto Copley's camp, sneering villain) are so hammy that they invoke memories of Vincent Price in low-grade B shockers.

Accept the excesses, though, and the film has a lot going for it. Lee seems inspired as much by Hitchcock's Vertigo as by Park Chan-wook's original movie. Helped by a Bernard Herrmann-like score from Roque Baños and by Sean Bobbitt's atmospheric cinematography, he successfully gives the film a delirious, dream-like quality. Brolin, a jowly, physically imposing actor, tackles his role with utter conviction, giving the film a gravitas it would otherwise have lacked.