Review by James Lindorf
Outside of one performance in 1946, 88-year-old Oscar® winner Michael Caine has been working almost nonstop for the last 65 years. Given the number of adaptations of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, it is shocking that Caine never played Fagin, the paternal leader of a gang of British juvenile thieves. The cinematic injustice has finally ended with “Twist,” director Martin Owen’s take on the classic story set in contemporary London. Saban Films and Sky Studios will bring this latest take to theaters and streaming platforms on July 30th.
Molly Twist instilled a love of art and family in her son Oliver from an early age. After her passing, Oliver (Rafferty Law), who now goes by Twist, lives on the streets by his own rules, sharing his art with the city. After a run-in with the local police, Twist is saved by members of Fagin’s crew, including Dodge (Rita Ora), Batesy (Franz Drameh), and Red (Sophie Simnett). Attracted to the lifestyle and Red, Twist joins the “family” on a preliminary basis as they plan an art heist. Twist’s moral code is tested when the theft goes sideways, and he’s caught between Fagin, the police, and loose-cannon Sikes (Lena Headey).
Owen and his long-time cinematographer Håvard Helle love moving the camera to add energy to the action. The kids’ primary means of getting around town is free-running or parkour, which provides many exciting angles and changes in heights for filming. In the opening scene, there is some GoPro camera work that frankly doesn’t work. Even though the camera is strapped to the actor or stunt person, there is an added sense of artificiality, plus we all know someone who struggles with the shaky-cam effect. Adding to the visual appeal is the use of London’s historic East End and the film’s embrace of cutting-edge streetwear. “Twist” has an abundance of cinematic energy, which you would expect from a Guy Ritchie heist film. In “Twist,” the camera work gets in the way of understanding what is happening on the screen instead of accentuating it.
Some people will love “Twist,” but it will be best remembered for introducing the world to Rafferty Raff” Law, the son of Jude Law, and Sadie Frost. You can see the family resemblance in their looks, but Raff has yet to develop his father’s on-screen presence. He isn’t starting from ground zero because some charisma is present, but a large portion of his performance falls flat. That may be more of an issue the director as under and overacting run rampant throughout the film. Heady as Sikes is a cartoonish villain. She is treated like she’s the devil even though she does nothing for the first two acts but tossing around an intimidating glance or two.
Screenwriters John Wrathall and Sally Collett try to front-load the film with pathos for Oliver. Showing him with his mom is supposed to tell us all we need to know about him as a character. Unfortunately, that is where the character development ends. Dodge, in this film, is a nothing character that might be another member of the gang when Dodger is always the best of the bunch and leading the rest of them when they are “working.” Rita Ora has energy and charisma to spare, but she is given nothing memorable to do. Michael Caine is good as Fagin, but his age does impact his performance. Most of the performance is from a seated position which is fine for the mastermind. Unfortunately, we are a very long way from a Steven Soderbergh heist walkthrough. Instead, we get Fagin saying I will have a new plan in four hours and cutting to an uninspired action sequence.
“Twist” has a lot of potential, and whether the director or the script squanders that, it is a shame. There is a chance this same cast, with the same general plot and design aesthetics, could be one of those once-a-year small budget blockbusters. Instead, we are left wondering what could have been if they had built up the characters and given them something interesting to do. “Twist” proves looks aren’t everything and earns a 1.5 out of 5.
Rating: R (Some Violence and Language)
Genre: Drama, Crime, Action
Original Language: English (United Kingdom)
Director: Martin Owen
Writer: John Wrathall
Release Date: July 30th, 2021
Runtime: 1h 30m
Production Co: Future Artists Entertainment, Unstoppable Film and Television, Red Bull Media House, Twist Entertainment, Particular Crowd, Pure Grass Films
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