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A Visually Stunning but Emotionally Uninvolving Oliver Twist

  • Jan 25, 2006
Charles Dickens' famous story of the perseverance of the individual in the crumbling society of poverty in mid 19th century London has been scripted for film many times: the catalogue lists 19 versions and that doesn't include some films using the matrix of the story only. The results are variably successful: David Lean's 1948 version is brilliant, Renny Rey's 4 part mini series in 1999 was good, Tony Bill's TV film in 1999 had the flavor, the musical version 'Oliver!' was a resounding success, and even Jacob Tierney's 'Twist' from 2003 with the pickpockets as male hustlers had its magic moments. Now here comes Roman Polanski with yet another adaptation of the warhorse novel, and while there are many fine aspects of this version, there are many problems that seem to be overlooked.

Polanski creates a visual masterpiece of England and especially London of 1850, opting for sepia and brown tones to give the dark film a sense of the muck and filth that were de rigueur in that time of dirt streets and horse drawn carriages. His sets do appear to be backstage constructions but they offer the right atmosphere. There are some fine actors involved, especially Ben Kingsley as one of the more successful Fagin interpreters. But somewhere along the line Polanski let the scenery and costumes take over and the screenplay and direction offer us the shell outline of the story but the fine actors are not given the opportunity to become fleshed out adequately to allow us to really care about them.

At 130 minutes the film seems to drag and to lack attention to character development, but it is a visual treat. The ingredients are all here but somehow the cake didn't rise. As with Dickens' novel, Oliver Twist needs to tug at our hearts: this one just doesn't. Grady Harp, January 06

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review by . November 22, 2008
(2005 version with Ben Kingsley)      Not quite as Dickens wrote it   And lacks even one song   This remake's sort of "okay"   But it's two whole hours long     The classic orphan story   With artistic liberty   It casts out Ollie's half-brother   And Brownslow's family     The actors are all very good   It's not their fault the plot   Doesn't focus …
review by . December 04, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Acting, sets      Cons: The last half of the film is paced badly and can be hard to follow      The Bottom Line: Watch the first half of the movie then read the last half of the novel. Recommended with reservations.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.      I think with Oliver Twist, Roman Polanski bit off more than he could chew.      The story …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #96
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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About this movie


Roman Polanksi's adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel.

If Charles Dickens were alive to see Roman Polanski's faithful adaptation ofOliver Twist, he'd probably give it his stamp of approval. David Lean's celebrated1948 versionof the Dickens classic and Carol Reed'sOscar®-winning 1968 musicalare more entertaining in some ways, but Polanski's rendition is both painstakingly authentic (with superb cinematography and production design) and deeply rooted in the emotional context of the story. Both Polanski and Dickens had personal experiences similar to those of young Oliver (played here by Barney Clark) -- Polanski in the Nazi-occupied ghettos of Poland during World War II, and Dickens during his hard-scrabble youth in Victorian London -- and this spiritual kinship lends a certaingravitasto the tale of a tenacious orphan who escaped from indentured servitude in London society and is taken in by Fagin (Ben Kingsley) and his streetwise gang of pickpockets. As the evil Bill Sykes, who exploits Oliver for his own nefarious needs, Jamie Foreman is no match for Oliver Reed (in the '68 musical) in terms of frightening menace, but even here, Polanski's direction hews closer to Dickens, while the screenplay by Ronald Harwood (who also wrote Polanski'sThe Pianist) necessarily trims away subplots and characters for the sake of narrative economy. All in all, thisOliver Twistrises above most previous versions, and with the benefit of Kingsley's ...
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Genre: Drama
Release Date: September 23, 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: January 24, 2006
Runtime: 130 minutes
Studio: TriStar Pictures, Sony Pictures
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