Writer: Gareth GohWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast:
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Seemingly everybody and their mothers-in-law know the famous story of Oliver Twist, the orphan with the heart of gold. Charles Dickens created a literary legend when he penned his famous tome. There have been dozens of big-screen adaptations (and even a few smaller screen ones), Broadway musical performances with boisterous renditions of "Food, glorious food" and an animated TV movie featuring talking cats and dogs. This author even once starred as the titular character in a moving school musical performance. So the question on everybody's mind is, "why make YET another adaptation?"
Simple. The Roman Polanski touch. The Academy-award winning director of the harrowing "The Pianist" creates another dark, brooding and surprisingly-violent scenario here but amidst all this darkness, a certain delectable level of delight abounds, crafted by clever British wit delivered through amusing Cockney accents and led by the orphan's heart of gold that shines oh-so-brightly.
If you've been living under a rock for the past century or so, Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is an orphan who gets banished from the orphanage for having the audacity to ask for more food. Bouncing from one mistreating apprenticeship to the next, he eventually runs away to London, latches on with the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden), the master thief Fagin (played with marvellous glee by Ben Kingsley) and their merry band of pickpockets, Oliver learns the trade but in a crazy turn of events, ends up under the care of kindly Mr. Brownslow (Edward Hardwicke), much to the anger of Fagin and his 'boss' of sorts, the dangerous Bill Sykes (Jaime Foreman).
The screenplay, adapted by Ronald Harwood, is chock-full of clever, tongue-in-cheek wit that helps lighten the mood dampened by the dark locales. The sets, meanwhile, have to be considered a star in their own right. London is gorgeously and accurately recreated (in Praque) and not only reflects, but helps set the desired mood.
On that note, nobody does bleak quite like Mr. Polanski. His palette is evidently filled solely with grey and other monochromatic colour schemes. That creates the perfect balance, between the light dialogue and the heavy mood, for this such film.
The performances are all top-notch, with an entirely British cast full of British charm and humour. The characters are delightfully light when they have to be, scary as hell at other times. Sir Kingsley, in particular, takes great delight in playing the whimsical Fagin. Fagin is a good-hearted crook in every sense of the phrase and Kingsley is charged with the arduous task of portraying this double-edged sword. He passes with flying colours.
"Oliver Twist" is good family fun. That said, it is dark and it is violent and children will be frightened out of their minds. Occasionally. People die. Things go bump in the night. London is portrayed as an ugly (metaphorically, not physically) place where one must be incredibly hardened to survive. If children can handle that, they will have a great time with this one. Adults certainly will.Cinema Online, 23 September 2008