Roman Polanski directs the classic Charles Dickens story of a young orphan boy who gets involved with a gang of pickpockets in 19th Century London. Abandoned at an early age, Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is forced to live i... more »n a workhouse lorded over by the awful Mr. Bumble, who cheats the boys of their meager rations. Desperate yet determined, Oliver makes his escape to the streets of London. Penniless and alone, he is lured into a world of crime by the sinister Fagin (Academy-AwardŽ winner Sir Ben Kingsley) -- the mastermind of a gang of pint-sized pickpockets. Oliver's rescue by the kindly Mr. Brownlow is only the beginning of a series of adventures that lead him to the promise of a better life.« less
Polanski presents an honorable, but not definitive, version
Hazen B Markoe | St. Paul, MN United States | 10/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ever since Charles Dickens first penned OLIVER TWIST in 1837, no one ever thought that this sentimental tale of an orphan boy bounced between a gang of thieves and all-too-often uncaring London society would be the classic that it is today. Soon, however, its wealth of rich and eccentric characters would capture the imagination of both readers and filmmakers alike. By now, most everyone is familiar with the story of Oliver Twist, an orphan who is brutalized in the Poorhouse system of Victorian London. Eventually, while escaping his tragic circumstances, he inadvertently falls in with the roguish Fagin and his band of young pickpockets. Feeling sorry for him, one of the gang, Nancy, will help the boy find his loving family, at the cost of her own life. There have probably been at least 19 film and television adaptations of this story, with the stand outs being the 1948 David Lean version and the 1968 musical OLIVER! Noted and controversial director Roman Polanski now tries his hand at the oft-told tale, with his efforts resulting in a good, but far from definitive, adaptation.
For starters, the film is basically a bare bones version of the story, with many of its wonderful characters and dramatic plotlines either shortened or cut completely. For example, gone are such fantastic characters as Oliver's evil half-brother Monks, as well as the harridan-like Widow Corney. Also gone is the entire plotline linking Oliver to his past. As a result of such tinkering, the film tends to drag in parts during its basically two hour running time.
On the other hand, there are also many things to enjoy as well. While he might lack the sparkle and grandness that Alec Guinness and Ron Moody brought to the role, Ben Kingsley makes for a credible and sympathetic Fagin. Kingsley plays the role with a soft voice and manner, highlighting the emphasis of Fagin as a warped, yet somehow endearing, father figure to young Oliver. As the title character, Barney Clark is a perfect example of wide-eyed innocence, without being overly cute. Edward Hardwicke, best known to PBS viewers as Dr. Watson in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series, brings warmth and steel to the role of the kindly Mr. Brownlow. Harry Eden is stellar, but doesn't get nearly enough screen time, as the Artful Dodger, while Jamie Foreman is appropriately brutish at the vicious Bill Sykes. Alun Armstrong and Mark Strong make vivid impressions in smaller roles. Special note must be taken of Leanne Rowe's heart-rending portrayal of the tragic Nancy. Rowe brings a wonderful combination of lost innocence and hard living to the role. Visually, the film is a treat for the eyes with rich colors contrasting with the dark and dingy world of Fagin's gang. Rachel Portman's music also solidly adds to the atmosphere of the film.
In the end, Polanski succeeds in creating a movie that, while it is a solid version, falls somewhat short of the more classic film versions of the Dickens novel. Still, this is still a film worth recommending. "
Fell short of my expectations...
Viewer | USA | 10/02/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I have been following the making of this film, for years now, and was thrilled to finally see it, today. But it truly disappointed me and fell short of my expectations from a Polanski film, who "wowed" us with Tess and The Pianist. Scenery lovely, costumes well done, sets very accurate to the early Victorian age, and very gloomy settings with fog, mud, and muck that you can almost smell London, as was. Sadly, the greatness ended there. Changes made throughout left the story rather bland and the acting was flat, which I am surprised, as the cast was excellent. Poor directing can be the only fault, here. The only character who actually had some true spark to her, was Nancy. Oliver rarely smiled or seemed moved, Fagin seemed too weak and meek, rather than the clever, twisted man he was meant to be. Even Bill Sikes did not have me shivering when he walked on a scene. Only the last scene made you swallow your tears back...the rest of it dragged a bit. I have seen 5 other versions of this novel to film, and I have to say, this is not a favourite. They also left out a great deal of characters, like Monks, Rose, her fiance, the Claypoles, and some of the gang. Nothing about the fate of Oliver's mother, nor Oliver living with Rose, nor what happens to Dodger and the rest of the thieving gang. For a fuller story, see the 6 hour Masterpiece Theatre version; for another dark one, see David Lean's version. For better acting, see the musical. This would be similar to the musical, only darker and no singing and dancing-it isn't supposed to be a party, anyhow! But too much was left out of this version, which is sad, because it had so much potential. I do think it is worth seeing, but only for those who have read the book, first and will realize what is missing, and can enjoy the movie for other artistic value."
Touches the child in us
Alyssa A. Lappen | Earth | 04/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have not seen any of the many film or TV versions of Charles Dickens' 1837 classic, and have no basis of comparison for Polanski's take on Oliver Twist. That may be a good thing, as I have no preconceived notions of what this film ought to be. Barney Clark's portrayal of the foundling born in a countryside workhouse, enslaved at age 10 by a feeble funeral director and his imposing wife, and escaped to the bowels of London, is nothing short of magnificent.
Polanksi's account of Oliver's tragic childhood, survival and ultimate adoption by the kindly rich gentleman, Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), fits precisely into the image painted in Dickens' lengthy page turner. As one would expect, he embellishes the film with extraordinarily realistic scenes of the 19th century British countryside, hardscrabble streets and alleyways of London's "Spittlefield" slum and Brownlow's suburban mansion.
But Polanski also engaged impressive performances from Ben Kingsley as Fagin, the bent (and evil) old fence and the leader of London thieves and pickpockets, Jamie Foreman as the house-breaker and murderer Bill Sykes, and Leanne Rowe as the motherly Nancy who in the end saves Oliver's life at the cost of her own. Kingsley's Fagin is every bit as conniving and devious as readers recall. But he also occasionally shines with glints of kindness towards Oliver, the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden) and the rest of his youthful gang, not to mention remorse over Nancy's fate, thus inspiring viewers' sympathies for the poor and downtrodden in 19th Century England and consideration of the very real moral dilemmas of that age.
Of course, no two-hour movie could possibly include all the intricacies or characters of a Dickens novel, and this one is no exception. Thus, some readers may miss Oliver's half-brother Monks, Widow Corney and the story line concerning Oliver's history. But this in no way detracts from the movie's success. Nor does it prevent Polanski from hitting home runs with bit parts--for example, Alun Armstrong as the foul-tempered magistrate, Mr. Fang, and Mark Strong as the dandy Toby Crackit, an accomplice to the evil Bill Sykes.
In the main, however, Polanski zeros in on the tragedy of Oliver's life. There's something heroic in him, to be sure. And the happy ending is indeed welcome. But this doesn't erase the horrors that he suffers before his final rescue--his mother's death in the workhouse, starvation, enslavement, abuse, kidnapping, and the destruction of his innocence by men who exploit children.
In short, Polanski strikes the chords that have made Oliver's story a hit for nearly 170 years: He brings the hero's suffering to life and touches the lost child in all of us, young and old alike.
--Alyssa A. Lappen"
Isaac | Raleigh, NC | 01/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Little Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) stands up after finishing his bowl of gruel, meekly approaches the grumpy dining supervisor, and asks timidly, "Please, sir, I want some more." Only the opening line of "A Tale of Two Cities" is more recognizable in the world of Charles Dickens, but it is this line that reminds us of a character's inherent innocence, and how he is doomed to live a childhood of cruel inferiority.
Dickens' Oliver Twist has endured several film adaptations. One was a musical, another was an animated Disney feature, but none of them can hold a candle to Roman Polanski's masterstroke version. Either this is the purest and most timeless Dickens tale or Polanski is one of the greatest directors of our time, and, in case you want to know my opinion, I believe both to be true. With Oliver Twist, Dickens discovered his true writing style, creating a boy hero stuck in a world of detailed and colorful characters. In the film, Polanski paints a beautiful portrait of the world that Oliver inhabits, and it is undoubtedly the world that Dickens had in mind.
Its no secret that Dickens is one of the most talked about authors of literature. He himself grew up on the brink of poverty. One can logically conclude that he was mistreated by grown-ups, and one can also logically conclude that he developed a hatred for the upper-class. In most of his stories, the heroes, usually children, are abused and mistreated by snobbish, ignorant adults, and most of these adults are very wealthy; even Tiny Tim was inevitably at the mercy of Scrooge's stinginess. I think that Oliver Twist is the character that Dickens most identified with. The fact that he is one of the great heroes of literature gives the film a good reason to be of the highest order, because without a character that we can have sympathy for, a film is destined to fall dead in the water.
But since the book is such an immortal classic, Polanski's vision is destined to be, as well. The screenplay is disposable, I think; its transferring the screenplay to the screen that's the trick. We are given the story of a pitiful orphan boy who is struggling to survive at a time in which children are horrifically treated. He sees the world with his young eyes, and it is a world of vivid characters who are either his friends or enemies. Pretty much the only people who are kind to Oliver are those who break the law.
That would be Fagin (an unrecognizable Ben Kingsley), a grotesque but kind-hearted old man who runs a gang of young pickpockets. Oliver meets him through the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden) upon arriving in London, and begins to learn the tricks of stealing. After developing a bond with the boys, and the beautiful Nancy (Leanne Rowe), Oliver becomes caught in misunderstanding that sets off a chain reaction plot.
A pickpocketing goes awry and Oliver is arrested but pardoned by the man who was robbed, Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), the only wealthy man in the story that Dickens doesn't antagonize. He takes Oliver into his home, treats him with proper medical care and every luxury that he desires, and offers to give Oliver a proper education. But there is a dark shadow surrounding the boy hero, for the evil Bill Sykes (Jamie Forman), is out to use the boy as a pawn in a crime that eventually threatens Oliver's life.
Morality is an issue that Dickens so often explored, and both the book and the film solemnly argue that Fagin and his thieves are struggling for survival. 1850s London was a time in which the poor were treated unfairly by the government and the wealthy. So stealing food and money is necessary for Fagin and the boys. But is it still a crime or is it a justified way of life?
"Oliver Twist" brings this concept to life in an array of brilliance. There are many things about the film that are wonderful--the screenplay, the performances--but the film's ultimate triumph is offering a vision much like the one we materialize in our imaginations when we read the book. The characters are on display for the purposes of dragging the story along, but instead they carry it, and they are all played by actors and actresses who hit all the right notes. Barney Clark is the perfect Oliver. Ben Kingsley is a delightful Fagin, who is eventually exploited as a good man on the verge of becoming evil. Jamie Foreman is easily the scariest and most sinister Bill Sykes ever, and he seems to present an additional cruelty that Dickens did not create.
Everything about the film is display and conformation. We can imagine Charles Dickens falling in love the characters he created and concluding that these are those characters. In a year in which the Star Wars series has ended in a blaze of perfection, and when cinematic mediocrities can snatch six bucks from your wallet, here is a graceful movie that has a passion for its source material and never, not for a moment, loses an ounce of its potential greatness. What an extraordinary film. - Isaac
Rated PG-13; 130 minutes; Directed by Roman Polanski "
Pretty good...but not the best
John Gray Hunter Jr. | Wilmington, NC USA | 04/13/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Not bad. It's nice to see some of the details of the novel rendered clearly on film. The character of Nancy is particularly well done and wholly believable. But David Lean's version is superior as film making and much more watchable. It's a better film. Be sure to see it too. Why anyone likes the musical made from this story is beyond me!"