The teen-centric, modernised adaptation of classic literature is a road travelled before throughout cinema. Jane Austen’s Emma was revamped for the Valley girl-focused Clueless; Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew was the basis for Heath Ledger’s taming of Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You, and, however surprising it may be, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises took inspiration from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
Another of Dickens’ works that has been adapted or utilised in a certain manner since its first 1909 silent film inception is Oliver Twist, and for this 18th edition of the tale, it’s been “upgraded” to modern day London and run through a Guy Ritchie starter kit to integrate the titular orphan into a world of art-based thievery.
As Twist, Raff Law (son of Jude, hence the striking resemblance) lets his natural aesthetics do most of the work as he enthusiastically acrobats across rooftops, his days spent spray-painting impossibly high structures, whilst at night he camps out at the local art gallery. Seemingly getting away with his night-time activities rather undetected, his latest napping spell puts him on the crossfires of a fellow thief, Dodge (Rita Ora, managing considerably more lines than what she was afforded in the Fifty Shades trilogy), and her kindly criminal mentor, Fagin (Michael Caine).
They see potential in good ol’ Twist, and the timing of these crims coming together couldn’t be more perfect with a planned heist on the horizon, one that involves smarmy art dealer Losberne (David Walliams). If that wasn’t enough, director Martin Owen, seemingly under the impression that more plot and characters equates to relative interest, throws in the suitably villainous Lena Headey, as a female interpretation of the novel’s antagonist Sikes to upset their plans, and Sophie Simnett as a love interest for both Twist and Sikes to battle over.
As capable as the cast appear, and larger stacked ensembles have triumphed in spite of their assemblage prior, Owen can’t help but want to indulge in the parkour stunts of Twist. It’s a pleasing sight during the film’s opening credits, but it becomes tedious all-too quickly; we get it, the boy can jump! And then when he decides to actually focus on his characters, the dialogue provided leaves much to be desired. Whilst taking inspiration from a Guy Ritchie movie is understandable, developing your own style is crucial, and Owen misses the mark entirely on what makes Ritchie’s gangster-themed titles so much fun.
Ultimately a missed opportunity, and an absolute waste of an august cast, Twist in no way will leave an impression on audiences. Not as suave as it think it is, and completely missing the mark on any of the original material’s social commentary, the film’s minor win is allowing the young Law to earn his own spotlight.
TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Twist is screening in Australian theatres from April 29th, 2021.