Oliver Twist is one of those stories that everyone knows to some degree. Like Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, numerous other Shakespearean plays, as well as classics like Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, honestly the list goes on. Oliver Twist is a book that a not-insubstantial number of students have to read at some point in their academic career. At the very least we all know the line, “Please sir, can I have some more?” Often recited with a comically bad British accent.
To be brief, Twist is what happens when you marry Baz Luhrman’s Romeo+Juliet with Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, sprinkle in a little parkour, and let ten people—yes ten—write it. Is there potential in this lovechild? Yes. Add on Michael Caine (Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, Dredd) and you have me interested. Unfortunately, Twist is a relatively uninspiring mess of poor writing, flourishing but hollow camera work, and misplaced attempts at stylistic liberty.
The film introduces Rafferty Law, son of esteemed and perennial smoke show Jude Law. Raff (as he is actually credited) is the spitting image of his father. In fact, there are a few moments where you could forgive yourself for audibly gasping at the similarity. Raff is Oliver Twist, who initially insists that he just be called Twist, a request that Caine’s Fagin quickly asks to be excused from accommodating. Honestly, Raff leaves a bit to be desired in his debut, though I am unsure if that is the result of his still-developing talent or a poorly executed script. Honestly, that is my biggest problem with the whole film.
The cast isn’t inexperienced. Rita Ora (Detective Pikachu, Fifty Shades of Grey) plays Dodger, this film’s take on the Artful Dodger. Franz Drameh (Edge of Tomorrow, Attack the Block) pairs as her partner Batesy and Sophie Simnett (Daybreak) is playfully charming as Red, a.k.a. Nancy. Again, they aren’t inexperienced, they just also aren’t as seasoned as needed for this film to be better. The script’s deficiencies shine through with this young talent, something that more tested veterans may have been able to counteract.
In the last few years, we have gotten a collection of films that, while named for a specific work, could have easily been named something entirely different and had little impact on the final product. In perhaps my most unpopular opinion, Joker really had nothing to do with the Batman archvillain. Given any other name, set merely in New York rather than Gotham, the Joaquin Phoenix film would have been just as good. Twist fits in this box entirely too well. Yes, you have Fagin and Sikes and Nancy and The Artful Dodger and Twist and Brownlow. But the plot of the film is so independent of its source material that those characters could have been named anything else and it would have had no impact on the work. I admire the aspiration, but in execution, naming the film Twist and filling it with characters named after Dickens’s work feels less like an adaptation and more a cheap ploy to draw crowds to theater seats.
I really wanted to like this film. It had the potential. I even liked the inclusion of parkour. Dense cities traversed by thieves would absolutely include free-runners. The parkour in Twist is used sparingly and poorly, often in an attempt to wow viewers in moments where it’s not entirely necessary. Watching someone escape from pursuit by scaling a building in creative ways is great. Seeing someone hop along pedestrian pylons or flip and traipse about only reminds me of the cold open of The Office where Michael, Dwight, and Andy are running through the office like doofuses shouting “PARKOUR!”
As the film wrapped up, I couldn’t help but think, these folks made this movie because it sounded fun. I don’t doubt that it was, in fact, pretty fun to make. But that fun rarely creeps onto the screen. Instead, I struggled to stay awake, constantly sighed heavily, and—more often than I would have liked—caught myself cringing at bad line reads or puzzling plot structure. Charles Dickens and Oliver Twist deserve a little more than a few fresh faces and radical stunts. Unfortunately Twist can’t accomplish much more than that. | Caleb Sawyer