In the Nineteenth Century, orphan Oliver Twist is sent from the orphanage to a workhouse, where the children are mistreated and barely fed. He moves to the house of an undertaker, but after an unfair severe spank, he starts a seven day runaway to London. He arrives exhausted and starving, and is soon welcomed in a gang of pickpockets lead by the old crook Fagin. When he is mistakenly taken as a thief, the wealthy victim Mr. Brownlow brings Oliver to his home and shelters him. But Fagin and the dangerous Bill Sykes decide to kidnap Oliver to burglarize Mr. Brownlow's fancy house.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Adapted from the classic Dickens tale, Oliver Twist is the story of an idealistic orphan struggling to survive in a savage adult world. A world where hypocrisy, greed and cunning are celebrated and there are only rare glimpses of compassion.
The film focuses on the key events of the Dickens novel, excluding many of the subplots and associated characters. It opens with Oliver's (Barney Clark) arrival at the workhouse of "Please Sir, can I have some more" fame and follows his escape to London and its dingy underworld. Here he falls in with a band of pickpockets led by Fagin (Ben Kingsley) - a central character typifying hypocrisy, greed and cunning - but finds salvation in the form of Mr Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) who recognizes the goodness in Oliver and endeavors to extract him from his, albeit unsuccessful, life of thievery.
As he did with his award-winning, "The Pianist", Polanksi drew on his own life experiences as an orphan in the ghettos in World War II to recreate certain moods. Grim, grimy and often claustrophobic, "Oliver Twist" startlingly depicts a callous world where children live at the whim of ruthless, self-serving adults. But the horror of this dark, unforgiving world is relieved by the inclusion of humour and banter throughout, making the film both captivating and entertaining.
As Oliver, Barney Clark exemplifies the helplessness of an innocent at the mercy of strangers and being manipulated for their benefit. As noted by Mr Sowerberry, the undertaker, "There's an expression of melancholy in his face, my dear, which is very interesting. He'd make a delightful mute". And mute and incapacitated - be it through hunger, illness, injury and/or fear - he is for much of the film. Other than a surprising brief show of defiance that takes him from the coal shed and sets him on the road to London, there is little evidence of any determination, strength or willfulness at all in this Oliver. But unfortunately there is little to endear him either and the film suffers for it.
Harry Eden has more depth and is much more compelling as the Artful Dodger. Plucky and likable, his struggle with the consequences of his betrayal of Nancy (Leanne Rowe) is agonising. Ben Kingsley is masterful and almost unrecognizable as Fagin. Depicted as pure evil in the novel, Polanksi strives to give this character humanity and meaning. The result is a foul, exploitative, groveling survivor a desperate and pitiful villain, but not a completely heartless one.
The elimination of many of the twists of the novel means that this film may disappoint viewers familiar with the intriguing undercurrents of Dickens' plot and richness of his characters' and their relationships. The only incredible discovery that Oliver makes in this version is that there is a better life to either the workhouse or the den of thieves.
While adaptation to film necessitates simplification of the story and as Polanksi points out "For today's taste, you need to abandon a certain amount of melodrama that was very typical for the period", it is easy to feel that in this paring down we have been left with an entertaining adventure set in 19th century Britain. When it comes to this Oliver, less is not more.
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