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Twist – movie review

Twist is contemporary take on Charles Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist. Dickens’ tale followed a poor orphan boy lured into life of crime 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 version 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. An adolescent he is accidentally drawn into the world of ex-art dealer Fagin (Michael Caine) and his small “family” of pickpockets and art thieves. Rather than children though here Fagin’s band of pickpockets are mainly tech savvy adolescents that include Dodge (singer/songwriter Rita Ora); Red (Sophie Simnett), a bisexual con artist; and Batesey (Franz Drameh), a computer hacker. Fagin is seeking revenge against Losberne (David Walliams), 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. While seemingly aligned to Fagin, she’s following her own agenda. Sikes is in an abusive relationship with Red.

Plenty of running and parkour jumping across the rooftops of London, brings some energy to proceedings. The film has been directed by Martin Owen (2020’s The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud). 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.

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) turn the material into a caper story although 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.

Law brings a likeable charm and energy to his role. But not even Caine seems able to muster much enthusiasm for his character. Headey’s (Game of Thrones) character Sikes is a one-note villain, and she is unable to bring much of the way of depth to the character. Walliams (best known for his work in Little Britain and as a judge on Britain’s Got Talent) 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.

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; the animated 1988 Disney film Oliver & Company; Twisted a 1996 drama set in New York’s gay underground subculture, and Roman Polanksi’s dark 2005 version with Ben Kingsley as Fagin, 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 “more.”

Greg King

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