Outdated from its conception and only increasing its failures with each passing minute, Twist does Dickens seriously dirty.
Twist, the latest adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ classic about a young orphan named Oliver, is credited to two screenwriters, John Wrathall and Salley Collett. However, an additional four writers carry an official credit of “Additional material by,” meaning it took six people to come up with this modern-day re-telling where the “twist” — get it? — is, quite simply, parkour. That’s right, watch as Oliver and his merry gang of parentless pickpockets take to the streets of 21st century London, climbing up walls, doing somersaults as they run over roofs, and gracefully jumping from incredible heights. This idea would have seemed woefully misbegotten in 2010, when the sport was at its peak cultural and cinematic popularity; in 2021, it’s already antiquated, laughable. The only explanation for its existence is that some 80-year-old studio exec bellowed on about how he wanted a hip take on a known property that is also in the public domain, and some out-of-touch underling pitched parkour because they caught an airing of Casino Royale on basic cable the night before. Okay, so the Oliver Twist decision is obvious: the story is, after all, about thieves, which is easily exciting cinema. But keeping them as children seems a tad in poor taste, so just age them up a little, make them all around 19, and also sexy. Need to get a pop star in the mix as well — maybe Rita Ora? How about an up-and-coming star for the lead role? Raff Law, son of Jude Law? He’s got the name and looks but no experience, so we’ll throw in Michael Caine and Lena Heady for the adult roles, recognizable names that they are and bestowed with a sheen of respectability. Okay, so that’s all set. Final step, hire any director; it doesn’t really matter so long as they can properly capture the parkour action. Blockbuster.
But somehow, in spite of all the dubious decisions that had to have been made along the way, it’s in this final respect that Twist fails most epically. Director Martin Owen, last seen neutering human special effect Scott Adkins in The Intergalactic Adventures of Max Cloud, opts to shoot all of the action in a series of close-ups and medium shots that completely obscure the balletic kineticism on display. The close-ups actually make sense enough in that it’s obvious none of these actors are doing their own stunts, and so this helps to support the ruse. But if your production relies on stunt doubles anyway, why not shoot the remainder of the action in wide shots so as to really show off the performers’ impressive athleticism and adrenalized, death-defying moves. None of this is helped by editing of the overcaffeinated variety, all choppy cuts that render the proceedings essentially incomprehensible. To be very blunt, if you can’t even get the parkour part of your parkour movie right, what are any of us doing here? It’s certainly not for the story, which is an utter bastardization of the material. Oliver (Law) — better known as Twist here, as this film is hard as fuck — is a street-dwelling orphan who is also an incredible graffiti artist (because again, these screenwriters apparently loved 2010). He meets up with Dodge (Ora) and Batesy (Franz Drameh) while attempting to escape the police, and they invite him into their makeshift family headed by Fagin (Caine). They still steal, but this Fagin is the Dom Toretto of London, droning on and on about the importance of family and love, because everyone remembers how loveable Fagin was in Dickens’ novel. Nancy (Sophie Simnett) — or Red, as she is called here, because okay — pops up as Twist’s potential love interest, as does Sikes, here gender-swapped from the novel, played by Heady, and a paramour of Nancy. At one point, Twist apologizes to Nancy, saying he didn’t know she was gay. “I’m not just into girls,” Nancy says, to which Twist replies, “Wait, I’m so confused.” To recap, this adaptation is set in the present day, but Twist is unaware of bisexuality. You have to go back quite a bit further than 2021 for this one to make any sense.
Then there’s more plot. Fagin gets the gang involved in an art heist, because you know how kids today love their art heist movies, resulting in all sorts of twists — yes, making this joke again — and turns. The brilliant plan concocted by Fagin hinges on slipping a gun into a character’s pocket and then calling that individual’s cell phone, so that when he reaches into his pocket to answer, he will pull out a gun instead, causing chaos to erupt. Later, Fagin kills someone and says, “What a fine thing capital punishment is,” a wild line that is not worth unpacking within the film’s modern-day setting. And if you’re curious if the film contains the novel’s most famous line, it indeed has a killer variation on it: after beating the shit out of Twist, Sikes asks, “Tell me, would you like some more?” Sure, in writing this all sounds like the kind of bad camp that results in bonkers fun, right down to the brutal Ora ballad that accompanies the end credits, but it’s just not. Rather, it’s the kind of film that utilizes whooshing noises on its soundtrack whenever the camera pushes in quickly on an actor, and that liberally employs fast motion and freeze frames just so you understand how damn stylish it is. That the filmmakers seem to think Twist is legitimately cool is tough to endure; the second-hand embarrassment is suffocating. So thank you but no, I would not like some more.