TWIST

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Martin Owen

Stars: Raff Law, Michael Caine, Lena Headey, Rita Ora, Sophie Simnett, David Walliams, Franz Drameh, Noel Clarke, Jason Maza, Leigh Francis, Dominic Di Tommaso, Sally Collett, Martin Owen.

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A contemporary take on Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens’ classic tale of the poor orphan boy lured into life of crime with a gang of ragamuffin pickpockets and street urchins under the control of the elderly rogue Fagin, Twist updates the setting from the grim and bleak streets of Victorian era London to the sleek glass and concrete structures of modern-day London.

In this latest version of the oft told tale, our orphaned hero is played by Raff Law (the son of actor Jude Law in his first major film role), and he is an extreme graffiti artist whose love of art has been instilled in him by his late mother who encouraged his interests through visits to London’s many art galleries. A homeless adolescent who sleeps in art galleries Oliver is accidentally drawn into the world of ex-art dealer turned thief Fagin (Michael Caine) and his small “family” of pickpockets and art thieves. Rather than innocent and impressionable children though here Fagin’s band of pickpockets are mainly tech savvy adolescents, that include Dodge (singer/songwriter Rita Ora, from the Fifty Shades Grey trilogy, etc) and Red (Sophie Simnett, from tv series The Lodge, etc), a bisexual con artist, and Batesy (Franz Drameh), a computer hacker. Fagin is seeking revenge against Losberne (David Walliams, best known for his work in Little Britain and as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent), a suave but unscrupulous art collector and owner of a prestigious gallery, who ruined his life many years ago. He plans an elaborate heist and needs to talents of someone like Oliver to pull it off.

The psychopathic and cruel Sikes here is a female, played by Lena Headey (from Game Of Thrones, etc), and while seemingly aligned to Fagin she is following her own agenda. Sikes is in an abusive relationship with Red.

There is plenty of running and parkour jumping across the rooftops of London, which brings some energy to proceedings. The film has been directed by Martin Owen (2020’s The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud, etc) who tries vainly to capture some of the spirit of early Guy Ritchie with a cool soundtrack, a snazzy visual style and snappy editing from Jeremy Gibbs. One of the few highlights of the film is the cinematography of Owen’s regular collaborator Havard Helle, who captures some great vistas of London’s skyline both in daylight and at night-time.

In this loose adaptation a team of eight writers including director Owen, Sally Collett (who collaborated with Owen on Max Cloud), and John Wrathall (his first film script since 2012’s The Liability) wreak the changes and turn the material into a caper story. However the actual heist itself doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are many characters named after Dickens’ characters and there are some allusions and references to the original story. But this is something of a mess and a disappointment.

Law brings a likeable charm and energy to his role as the baby faced Oliver. But not even Caine seems able to muster much enthusiasm for his character. Headey’s Sikes is a one note villain, and she is unable to bring much of the way of menace or depth to the character that was played so memorably by Oliver Reed in the 1968 musical version. Walliams is suitably sleazy in his role. Noel Clarke and Jason Maza play Brownlow and Bedwin, a pair of police detectives who try to turn Oliver against Fagin, but they are unable to keep up with his parkour abilities. Leigh Francis brings some humour to the material with his small role as an over zealous traffic warden.

There have been many film versions of Dickens’ tale, beginning with several silent film versions from 1909 to David Lean’s bleak and gritty 1948 take with Alec Guinness as Fagin, through to the Oscar winning 1968 musical; there was also the animated 1988 Disney film Oliver & Company. Twisted was a 1996 drama set in New York’s gay underground subculture, and Roman Polanksi ave us a rather bleak and dark version with Ben Kingsley as Fagin in 2005.There have also been several tv adaptations, notably with a BBC miniseries in 1962 and 1985, and a BBC One miniseries in 2007.

But after seeing how the story is handled in Twist it’s unlikely that many people will be demanding: “Please sir, can I have more.”

★★

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