Michael Caine headlines a new take on the Oliver Twist story – but this one falls a little short.
The classic story of an orphan who falls in with a gang of child thieves in Victorian London is one of Dickens’ most cinematic novels and for good reason. Aside from a strong storyline, memorable characters and social commentary, Oliver Twist has a universality which allows it to be transplanted into just about any setting. When the source material is that good, it deserves respect.
Unfortunately, it gets little from Twist, a film that bills itself as bringing the novel up-to-date. True, it keeps the London setting, some of the characters’ names and a smattering of the plot, but the end result is a very different animal.
With a talent for art, orphaned Ollie Twist (Raff Law) has become a street artist when he makes friends with Dodge (Rita Ora) and Batesy (Franz Drameh), members of a teenage gang run by the elderly Fagin (Michael Caine). Attracted by the seemingly free clothes, food and shelter, Ollie soon becomes embroiled in one of their schemes, to rid David Walliams’ pompous art dealer of his prize paintings. But Fagin has a personal interest in what happens, as does the formidable Sikes (Lena Headey).
The familiarity of those names and part of the plot aside, this is an underwhelming attempt to update the Dickens classic. Gone are the social observations and the mystery surrounding Oliver’s heritage, presenting us with little more than an art heist movie, with built-in free running.
There’s lots of that, as the young gang members leap across the roofs of a labyrinthine London, one that exists in the shadow of those gleaming monuments to commerce, looking down on them with dazzling cold lights. Cinematographer Havard Helle indulges in some flashy camera work, designed to echo the streetwise soundtrack, but it runs away with him at speed and is often over in the blink of an eye.
Twist just about passes muster as a teen crime movie. While the gang merges into one mass, Raff Law has inherited some of his father’s screen presence and is as good in the role of Ollie as the script allows. Nonetheless, this really isn’t Michael Caine’s finest hour as Fagin, so it’s left to Lena Headey to be the film’s saving grace. Thankfully, she relishes her role as a decidedly badass Sikes and is missed when she’s not on screen – which is too often.
While his name is nowhere to be seen, the influence of Guy Ritchie is inescapable in the film’s brashness, physicality and pace. But this is a B-movie he might make on an off day and, despite its origins and its aspirations, Twist falls short. Dickens – and the audience – deserve better.
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