Filmmaker Spike Lee jumps feet first into the territory traveled by his nemesis, Quentin Tarantino: Revenge and Violence. And, he laces his new film, “Oldboy,” with a touch of Alfred Hitchcock, which is the saving grace.
A “reinterpretation” of Park Chan-wook’s Korean cult hit of the same name, “Oldboy,” is often distasteful, but never boring. It keeps you guessing until the final moment.
Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is a louse. Alcoholic and abusive, he is an advertising executive, who in 1993, staggers through city streets in a drunken stupor, only to awake, naked in a strange motel room, lacking windows and an entry/exit door. He is held captive in that room for the next 20 years.
Every day, through a small portal, he is provided with dumplings from a Chinese restaurant and a pint of Vodka. Intermittently, news updates appear on a TV screen, one of which announces that he is the at-large suspect in the brutal murder rape of his ex-wife. They leave behind a young daughter, who is raised by foster parents to become an acclaimed cellist. Riddled with guilt and confusion, Joe is obsessed with escaping to reconcile with his daughter, to whom he writes piles of un-mailed letters.
Finally, his day of deliverance comes. After being sedated, he wakes up inside a trunk, which he opens to find himself in a grassy field.
The rest of the film is about Joe’s relentless search to find his daughter and wreak revenge on his oppressors. Somehow, he manages to do this with the help of trusting social worker Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), a hammer, and the mysterious evil one, himself.
While “Oldboy” may seem to be a departure from the usual street-smart fare from Spike Lee (“Do the Right Thing,” “Jungle Fever,” “Mo’ Better Blues”), he did make an excellent crime caper, “Inside Man,” in 2006.
“Oldboy” is moving down through that thriller maze, but in a decidedly off-beat way. It shows that the versatile Lee can make movies that amaze.