A far cry from the 1968 musical OLIVER!, Roman Polanski's heavily atmospheric abridgment of Charles Dickens' masterpiece is dark, dank and violent, filled with terrifying scenes in which exploited children are beaten, shot or starving to death. In other words, it's just as Dickens wrote. Ronald Harwood's deft screenplay picks up with 19th-century orphan Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) returning to the Northampton parish workhouse where he was born nine years earlier. After making the mistake of asking for more of the workhouse's foul gruel, Oliver is shipped out to live with a kindly but meek coffin maker (Michael Heath) and his petty, overbearing wife (Gillian Hanna), who feeds the hungry boy dog scraps and still complains about the expense. Oliver runs away for what he hopes will be a brighter future in London, 70 miles away, but when he arrives, his feet black, cracked and bleeding, he finds a festering metropolis where rats, thieves and bad characters of every stripe roam the streets unimpeded. Overwhelmed and exhausted, he's spotted by the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden), a pint-size pickpocket who lures Oliver into the dreary den of Fagin (Ben Kingsley, unrecognizable under a mask of heavy makeup), a notorious fence who runs a gang of kid thieves out of his moldering, Spitalfields lair. Greasy, crooked and encrusted with dirt, Fagin is nevertheless a prince compared to brutal housebreaker Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman) who, with snarling white pit bull at his side, terrorizes the East London slums and his long-suffering girlfriend, Nancy (Leanne Rowe). Fagin and Sykes plot together to rob the home of kindly, well-to-do bachelor Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), who briefly offered Oliver a home after he was arrested as an accessory to one of the Dodger's crimes. Oliver, it turns out, is to play a key role in robbing his aging benefactor; when the plot goes awry and Oliver is spotted climbing through the window, Sykes plots the poor lad's murder. Like any filmmaker attempting to adapt Dickens, Polanski and Harwood (who also collaborated on 2001's THE PIANIST) have dropped major characters and subplots and downplayed the novel's fairy-tale ending for something a bit more realistic. For once, Sir Ben's tendency to swallow scenery whole, without even bothering to chew, is put to good use, and Polanski and Harwood deal with the fundamental anti-Semitism of the character by simply never mentioning the fact that he's supposed to be Jewish.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A far cry from the 1968 musical OLIVER!, Roman Polanski's heavily atmospheric abridgment of Charles Dickens' masterpiece is dark, dank and violent, filled with terrifying scenes in which exploited children are beaten, shot or starving to death. In other wo… (more)