Oliver Twist

on September 23, 2005 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
The writing/directing team behind "The Pianist" returns with another literary adaptation, that of the well-known and well-loved "Oliver Twist," which was last filmed for the bigscreen as the musical "Oliver!" more than 35 years ago. The Oliver Twist of the title is a young orphan (Barney Clark, a bit more passive than necessary) who, as the film begins, has just been sent to a workhouse, where he and other boys are cruelly exploited. He runs away to London where he falls in with a motley group of pickpockets, led by the sinister Fagin (Ben Kingsley). Just as quickly, however, he finds himself taken in by the kindly and rich Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke). However, turns of events subsequently shunt Oliver between two worlds: one offering a pampered existence and the other decreeing a deprived one.

The portrait of early 19th-century England proffered here may be the most vivid and realistic one ever put on film; you can practically smell the stench of the streets and feel the violent undercurrents buffeting London society. Roman Polanski's attention to detail is extraordinary, from the much cleaner parts of the city where the rich folk live to the dilapidated shanties housing Fagin and his makeshift family. Performances are generally first-rate, though Jamie Foreman as the murderous Bill Sykes lacks menace. Kingsley in particular stands out as a criminal driven to his 'evil' deeds by fear of destitution and homelessness. (Oddly, the fact that Fagin is also Jewish, a problematic detail in the novel, is not dealt with at all in the movie, removing an interesting layer from the film's tragic figure.) Though some may quibble with the changes Polanski and scripter Ronald Harwood have made to the book, mostly they get it right. What's lacking in the film is heart; Harwood's condensing of the Charles Dickens novel seems rushed and is more than a little impersonal. Starring Barney Clark, Ben Kingsley, Jamie Foreman and Edward Hardwicke. Directed by Roman Polanski. Written by Ronald Harwood. Produced by Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde and Roman Polanski. A TriStar release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for disturbing images. Running time: 141 min

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