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
When Oliver first meets Nancy, two women and the Artful Dodger play a card game. Dodger asks Nancy to cut the deck in half, and she splits the card into two piles. When Dodger returns them into two piles, he puts the half that was originally on top, on top again. He might have been cheating, but this could also be an error in the film. See more »
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SPOILER: Footage of the beating of Nancy from Bill was cut in the UK to obtain a "PG" rating. See more »
After the excellent, and deeply moving, THE PIANIST, I thought that Polanski was back on top of his art. His latest work should have been a lusty, disturbing, gripping and emotional film. Just look at the credentials - Roman Polanski directing Ben Kingsley in an adaptation of Charles Dickens' OLIVER TWIST - sadly it fails to deliver on this fabulous premise.
This must rank as the lamest Polanski film after the horrible PIRATES (1986). He simply aims the camera and shoots in a rather obvious manner that hankers after the lazy Sunday afternoon BBC dramas. The pacing of the film is often too brisk and crams in too much plot detail. The viewer never has the time to understand the motivations of the characters and any emotional resonance is lost in the vast sets.
The art design of this film is absolutely beautiful and stunningly realized. No cost has been spared in recreating Victorian London. It is as if the George Cruikshank illustrations, which graced the interiors of the Penguin editions of the book, have literally come to life. The costumes and architecture resemble the monochromatic sepia-toned photographs from the era. The tight, narrow alleys infested with rats and dripping with slime and mud, all the poverty and filth is on display but the story gets swamped in those very same alleys. The opening and closing credits sequences used the famed woodcuts and etchings by Gustave Dore and they pack a visceral punch. All the crude vitality of Victorian life is captured in these haunting pictures and many will leave the theatre with goose-pimples.
The soundtrack employed vast symphonic forces but failed to arouse sympathy or create an ambiance to underline the visual action. It would occasionally arrive in a sudden melodramatic phrase and then, just as suddenly, disappear without trace. Very strange use of the sound-stage this. However, the hustle and bustle of London street life is well recorded. The change from the quiet solitude of the countryside to the arrival in London with the accompaniment of a cacophony of horses, shouting, jostling, screaming and cursing in the open marketplace was spot on.
Unlike the celebrated and poetic David Lean version of this book from 1948, which had the courage to detail some of the racist and anti-Semitic sentiments of the controversial novel, this new version has Polanski jettison any reference to Fagin's cultural background. We only see him as a Cockney pantomime villain drained of all passionate colour by being overtly politically-correct. Kingsley's performance is of the very best ham variety. He produces high melodrama all the way through until the closing scenes when he ushers in a raw poignancy that is truly heart-rending. If only he had used such magnificent power earlier in the film.
Still, in a time of the Summer Blockbuster, there is much to recommend in this handsomely mounted production. I just expected much more from a talent like Polanski. Even now I get chills thinking about his emotionally haunting version of Thomas Hardy's TESS...
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