Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oliver Twist (2005 film)

Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist is the story of an orphaned boy who escapes his miserable upbringing where he joins a group of pickpockets and later meets a veteran criminal who takes him under his wing. Directed by Roman Polanski and screenplay by Ronald Harwood, the film is another film adaptation of Dickens’ novel where Polanski explores the life of a young boy in his search to find a good family. Starring Ben Kingsley, Jamie Foreman, Barney Clark, Harry Eden, Leanne Rowe, Edward Hardwicke, and Mark Strong. Oliver Twist is an extraordinary film from Roman Polanski.

An orphan named Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is sent to a workhouse for his ninth birthday where he works with many other children where they’re treated poorly and under-fed. When Oliver asks for more food, trouble brews as he’s nearly sold to a chimney-sweeper who craves an apprentice only to be taken to the coffin maker Mr. Sowerberry (Michael Heath) where Oliver is treated cruelly by Mrs. Sowerberry (Gillian Hanna) and an older apprentice named Noah (Chris Overton). After enduring all sorts of punishment, Oliver runs away and walks 70 miles towards London to find a new life. Despite exhaustion and a stop at the home of an old woman (Liz Smith), Oliver finally makes it to London where he meets a young pickpocket known as the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden). The Artful Dodger introduces Oliver to other pickpockets and their elderly leader in Fagin (Ben Kingsley).

After learning how to be a pickpocket, Oliver joins the Artful Dodger and another pickpocket to steal where they steal the handkerchief of a man named Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) where Oliver was caught as is taken to trial where he collapses due to a high fever. Mr. Brownlow takes pity on Oliver and brings him home where Oliver finds a life that is full of comfort and love yet the young prostitute Nancy (Leanne Rowe) and Fagin’s associate Bill Sikes (Jamie Foreman) finds where Oliver lives as they kidnap him and bring him back to Fagin. Sikes decides to take Oliver back to Brownlow with his friend Toby Crackit (Mark Strong) to steal from Brownlow but the heist backfires where Sikes nearly drowns in a river and Oliver is wounded by a bullet.

With Sikes conspiring with Fagin to kill Oliver, Nancy overhears the plan as she arranges a secret meeting with Mr. Brownlow about Oliver’s whereabouts. Trouble brews forcing Sikes to take care of things while Fagin and his young gang of pickpockets hide out as Crackit’s home as a manhunt for Sikes starts to happen. When Sikes returns to London to kill Oliver, the pickpockets confront Sikes over what he did as it leads to a chase between Oliver and Sikes as the young boy comes to term with everything he had been through.

The film is essentially the story of a young boy who has endured cruelty in his young life as he searches for a place that he can call home where he eventually meets a group of young pickpockets and an elderly eccentric who take him and later find more comfort and love in a rich man as is suddenly caught between two different worlds. One of which features a world that includes a man who is truly cruel and is willing to do anything to get what he wants even if he has to kill. For the young Oliver Twist, it’s just about trying to live a good life where he can not worry about starving or endure anything. He would eventually gain two very different father figures in the process. The more kind and generous Mr. Brownlow who offers him a life that is safe and filled with knowledge. The other is the more ambiguous Fagin who teaches him how to survive yet is someone who is more interested in his own pursuits where he eventually starts to care for the boy.

Ronald Harwood’s screenplay is wonderful for the way he tells Charles Dickens’ story though it is obvious that there are things that do get leave out from the adaptation. Still, it is quite faithful as Harwood manages to do enough to establish the characters and develop them while making sure that the film is still about this young boy who endures a lot of harsh environments in his journey where he eventually finds something that can give him comfort. Even through all of the trial and tribulations he went through, he still feels grateful for what he has learned such as a climatic meeting between himself and Fagan. It’s a moment where despite what Fagin has been trying to do, Oliver still feels like Fagan at least provided something that would allow him to come of age as a boy.

Roman Polanski’s direction is very engaging for the way he presents the film as it’s shot largely in the Czech Republic. Largely as Polanski allows the film to have this sense of visual splendor in its locations as well as the chase scenes where he presents it with a degree of style. While the filmmaking is more restrained and polished than everything Polanski had done, there is still something in the way Polanski has his actors put into a frame. Even where he will find something that can be funny and light-hearted. Notably the scenes involving the art of pick pocketing where it is very elaborate in its choreography though the presentation is more intimate. Polanski also creates some very intense moments in the suspense such as the key scene where Sikes tries to go after Oliver that is filled with amazing set pieces and action. Overall, Polanski creates a very solid and well-crafted film that pays true to Charles Dickens’ novel.

Cinematographer Pawel Edelman does excellent work with the film‘s colorful cinematography from the sunny look of some of the farmland scenes to the more grayish look for some of the scenes in old London including moments in the rain. Editor Herve de Luze does some amazing work with the editing from the rhythmic cuts in the suspenseful moments and chase scenes to more leisured cuts in the dramatic moments. Production designer Allan Starski, along with art directors Jindrich Koci and Jiri Matolin and set decorator Jille Azis, does spectacular work with the sets from the look of old London and the buildings of the 19th Century to the look of the taverns and places the characters encounter.

Costume designer Anna B. Sheppard does terrific work with the costumes to create the differing looks of the more refined look of the rich to the more ragged clothes of the poor. Makeup designer Didier Lavergne does wonderful work with the look of Fagin with his hair and beard. The visual effects work of Sascha Alexander Haber and Daniel Lo Iacono is very good for the backdrops that is created for some of the film‘s exterior setting in the city. Sound editor Jean Goudier does superb work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the locations including the tense moment at the kitchen when Oliver asks for more food. The film’s music by Rachel Portman is a delight due to its soaring orchestral flourishes that is playful at times but also dramatic with its heavier arrangements as it’s one of Portman’s best scores.

The casting by Celestia Fox is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some noteworthy small roles from Ian McNiece as the workshop owner Mr. Limbkins, Jeremy Swift as the man brings Oliver to the workshop, Andy Linden as the chimney sweeper, Michael Heath and Gillian Hanna as Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry, Chris Overton as the cruel Noah Claypole, Liz Smith as the old woman Oliver meets on his way to London, Alun Armstrong as Magistrate Fang, Patrick Godfrey as the bookseller, and Frances Cuka as Mr. Brownlow’s maid Mrs. Bedwin. Other notable roles include Ophelia Lovibond as the young prostitute Bet, Lewis Chase as the young pickpocket Charley Bates, and Mark Strong as the stylish criminal Toby Crackit. Leanne Rowe is wonderful as the young prostitute Nancy who starts to care for Oliver over the way he treats her as she tries to help him return to Mr. Brownlow.

Edward Hardwicke is terrific as the very kind Mr. Brownlow who takes Oliver in and shows him a world full of comfort and security as he becomes aware of the troubles Oliver has been through. Harry Eden is superb as the Artful Dodger who shows Oliver the ropes into how to pickpocket while realizing the danger that Sikes is getting everyone into. Jamie Foreman is excellent as the very conniving Bill Sikes who tries to do things that puts Oliver into a lot of trouble to the point that he would kill to get what he wants. Ben Kingsley is great as the very ambiguous Fagin who treats Oliver like a son though goes into conflict when his feeling interferes with his criminal pursuits only to realize the kind of trouble Sikes puts him through. Finally, there’s Barney Clark in a remarkable performance in the title role as he displays a melancholia to the character as well as someone who knows what he has to do to be good as it’s a very memorable performance for the young actor.

While it may not be one of Roman Polanski’s great films, Oliver Twist is still a very stellar and engaging film from the revered filmmaker. Thanks to a wonderful ensemble cast that includes Ben Kingsley, Barney Clark, Harry Eden, Jamie Foreman, and Mark Strong. It’s a film that provides a lot of attributes to what makes Charles Dickens’ story so beloved while Polanski puts his own unique take that is accessible to adults and children. In the end, Oliver Twist is a marvelous film from Roman Polanski.

Related: Oliver Twist (1948 film)

Roman Polanski Films: Knife in the Water - Repulsion - Cul-de-Sac - The Fearless Vampire Killers - Rosemary's Baby - Macbeth (1971 film) - (What?) - Chinatown - The Tenant - Tess - (Pirates (1986 film)) - Frantic - Bitter Moon - Death and the Maiden - The Ninth Gate - The Pianist - The Ghost Writer - Carnage - (Venus in Fur) - (Based on a True Story) - (An Officer and a Spy) - (The Palace)

© thevoid99 2012


Alex Withrow said...

I agree that this is no where near one of Polanski's top films, but I do remember it being a rather enjoyable adaptation. Ben Kingsley just kills it.

thevoid99 said...

It is minor Polanski but I'll take a minor Polanski over most people's films any day of the week.