It isn't that updating Oliver Twist by populating Charles Dickens' classic tale of Victorian youth in extremis with contemporary teenage hustlers is a bad idea. But it's been done before, and while actor-turned-director Jacob Tierney's grim and calculatedly grubby film is certainly better than 1997's TWISTED, it feels shopworn from the start. The fact that...read more
It isn't that updating Oliver Twist by populating Charles Dickens' classic tale of Victorian youth in extremis with contemporary teenage hustlers is a bad idea. But it's been done before, and while actor-turned-director Jacob Tierney's grim and calculatedly grubby film is certainly better than 1997's TWISTED, it feels shopworn from the start. The fact that there's not a lot to it beyond the overworked central conceit only make matters worse. Tierney shifts the setting from foggy London to the frozen fringes of Toronto, where naïve hicks from the sticks drift in hopes of escaping the boredom or abuse of their homes, only to wind up collecting like human flotsam around the city's gutters. With no place to go, these fresh-faced innocents invariably wind up in the sort of seedy coffee shops, down-and-out diners and donut joints frequented by the likes of the artful Dodge (Nick Stahl), a worn-down hustler with a numbing heroin habit and a sharp eye for desperate youths willing to play gay for pay. One such runaway is Oliver (Joshua Close), an apple-cheeked 17-year-old from a foster home somewhere north of the city who, like so many before him, needs some quick cash and a place to stay. Dodge takes Oliver back to the derelict school he and his fellow rent boys call home and introduces him to ponytailed pimp Fagin (Gary Farmer). Fagin warmly welcomes Oliver into his stable, then sends Dodge back to the cold streets to earn his keep. Dodge next introduces Oliver to Nancy (Michele-Barbara Pelletier), who, when she's not slinging hash at the Three Cripples Diner, ducks punches thrown by her abusive boyfriend, Bill, a shadowy figure who runs the entire drug and prostitution operation. Dodge becomes Oliver's mentor, even accompanying him on a date with a regular they call the Senator (Stephen McHattie), but their relationship gets a lot more complicated when Oliver falls in love with his new friend. Sadly, there's no place on the street — or in Dodge's heart — for tenderness. Despite Gerald Packer's effectively dour cinematography, much of the film feels studied and contrived. The cast don funky-but-chic thrift-shop cast-offs, and too many scenes play like improvised acting exercises. Tierney's so-serious script lacks any trace of humor, which might actually have made this depressing film feel a bit more real. Think of Gus Van Sant's MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991) and what's missing from this picture becomes clear.
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