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The first few minutes from Son of Saul more than set the stage/tone of the entire film – a fairly close camera that never strays too far from the protagonist; a sea of voice surrounding him and then a cacophony of screams from hundreds of people.  Then, the film immediately cuts to its title card and follows the titular character back to cleaning the very cell where those screams came from.  Son of Saul does not waver too far from this introduction and only works to build upon it a very memorable and eerie reminder of a time period that may seem all too familiar as a film property yet unique in its perspective.

Son of Saul follows its titular character, Saul (Géza Röhrig), who is a Jewish worker-prisoner in one of the Nazi concentration camps.  One day, he comes upon a small boy during his work which sets off a journey to bury the boy properly while still trying to maintain his cover in his workplace.

The biggest strengths of the film lie in its cinematography, its unflinching emotional energy and its interesting take on a protagonist.  The first bold aspect of the film is the camera which rarely strays far from Saul.  It hovers close enough for us to usually see his upper body and face while the rest of the action around him becomes a slight blur or a mess of sights/sounds (purposely).  This perspective, the long takes and the intense scrutiny of the propelling plot serve to capture a number of emotions from the shady backroom deals these prisoner-workers must work with to the various politics at hand between the prisoner-worker factions.

In addition, along with the acting debut of Röhrig, all of the mise-en-scene work to really capture the plight of Saul himself.  Although the true question of Saul’s intention never fully comes into fruition, the character’s interactions with his captors and peers along with his unrelenting goals to put his son to rest make for quite the perspective to view both his own spirit and the plight of the prisoners in the concentration camps.  The result is simply a raw amount of emotion as we, the audience, view the atrocities in such graphic detail while balancing the perils of this poor ‘father’ of sorts who is trying to bring the only sense of light back into the world. Perhaps the only faults to find with the film is in some of the scenes which veer almost too closely to action hero tropes and break the immersion that the film presents to the audience.

Son of Saul is a claustrophobic, emotionally raw and disturbing look back at the World War II concentration camps in Hungary.  The approach by Nemes is unique in it’s close proximity to the protagonist in many ways throughout the film and thematically hitting upon both it’s chaotic time period and the character’s internal struggles.  Son of Saul is a sad triumph for its titular character and the time period it represents – a somber and poignant reminder of the struggles that still resonate to this day.

The Wie muses: **** out of ******

 

Director: László Nemes

Running Time: 1 Hour; 47 Minutes

Rated: R

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11172241_det‘Oldboy’ was a very provocative film when it first released on Korean shores.  Beautifully shot with a frenetic style, it was part of a fascinating Korean renaissance of filmmaking and quite the film to watch.  As often as it happens in the modern day of films, the US has taken the property and remade it, unfortunately to very unsatisfying results.  This new iteration of ‘Oldboy’ may have the trappings of it’s original’s plotline but lacks little else in it’s messy execution that may only please on the most superficial levels.

‘Oldboy’ follows Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) who is working in advertising and is a drunkard in the worst ways.  After a drunken night in town, he suddenly blacks out and is awaken in a motel room which he cannot escape.  After 20 years of imprisonment and learning through an in-room TV that he is framed for murder for his ex-wife along with his daughter trying to live a normal life, Joe is put in a box and let go in the middle of the city – trying to retrace who may have wronged him and why.  Along the way, Joe encounters Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson) and finally, the Stranger (Sharlto Copley) himself.

Spike Lee’s remake falls apart in several key aspects: the bland aesthetical choices, a rushed/weaker script and a miscast set of actors.  In terms of just a visual and auditory experience, ‘Oldboy’ underwhelms.  A generic orchestral soundtrack that is oddly punctured with a metal guitar during action sequences feel completely uninspired.  On top of this, there is a lack of much physicality to scenes like the hammer fight scene, which feels odd in how it is shot and the lack of emotion within the choreography.  This scene is a great example of how this film simply takes a key scene from the original and only goes through the motions of remaking it rather than understanding what made the scene great overall.

How the hammer scene is written is a great reminder in how the whole script seemed to work – simply summarizing points from the original and never doing much to capture the spirit or emotion behind it’s predecessor.  More like a ‘greatest hits’ remake, the film makes nods towards the original (such as an octopus in a fish tank) and follows the original’s plot track beat-by-beat but never seems to capture the intensity or even mystery/tension that this film tries to grasp towards.  Joe, for instance, has an unnecessary and poorly shot scene where he fights a group of football players that tries to showcase his anger and new fighting prowess but comes off making the character even more unlikable and confusing as to why it had to happen.  The climax and explanations/additions/changes all feel undercooked and underwhelming as well.  Mixed in with the weak script is some of the worst product placement of the year that tries to integrate itself with Joe’s lack of technological prowess and ends up displaying more logos with unnecessary screen time.

Additionally, the majority of the cast feel completely misplaced or, at the very least, awkwardly written in.  Josh Brolin, for instance, is written off as a very unlikable character and does not find much redemption in his actions or given any really redeeming qualities.  These features become important since we stick with the character throughout the entire film and although Brolin is given a numerous amount of hardships to overcome, the audience rarely empathizes with the drama itself.  These casting problems extend to Copley and to a certain extent, even Jackson who feel more goofball than evil.  The most positive aspect about the film is probably Olsen who as a character is written a bit more logically than her counterpart in the original film and in terms of acting, is the most comfortable in her role.  It’s just a shame that the rest of the film was not given more attention like her.

‘Oldboy’ is a great example into how not to remake a film.  On top of a generic and inconsistent soundtrack and a mostly odd miscast cast, the script simply only replicates the beats than take the innovative style and charisma of it’s predecessor.  The end effect feels like a sloppy film that has been ‘Hollywood-ized’ in the worst ways.  If you are interested in the premise behind the film, go watch the original Korean version of the film.  This version of the story feels uninspired and generic even with the pedigree of the cast and crew behind it.  

Director: Spike Lee
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Rated: R

The Wie muses: * 1/2 out of *****

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