Roman Polanski's "Oliver Twist" is a high-toned, handsomely mounted, scrupulously literate adaptation of a beloved classic novel.
I hate high-toned, handsomely mounted, scrupulously literate adaptations of beloved classic novels.
The 1838 Charles Dickens novel has become such an essential part of Western literary lore and culture that it scarcely needs retelling but in short: A 10-year-old orphan living in a squalid Victorian workhouse, embarks on a journey to London, where he comes under the tutelage of a pickpocket named Fagin and, after a robbery goes awry, is subsequently taken in by a wealthy man named Brownlow. Incensed, Fagin's most sadistic protege, Bill Sikes, kidnaps Oliver and the boy becomes the object of a fierce, metaphorically rich struggle between two archetypal father figures.
"Oliver Twist" features a sound script, lavish cinematography and production design and solid performances by Ben Kingsley as Fagin, Jamie Foreman as Bill Sikes and newcomer Barney Clark as young Oliver. And although Polanski has allowed himself some liberties and compressions, the story itself remains unsullied. But everything is so on-the-nose that the production is rendered inert. Polanski has directed "Oliver Twist" with such care and virtuosity and integrity that it resembles one of the stippled engravings featured in its opening credits. I can't help thinking that I would have preferred an audacious but honest failure.
-- Ann Hornaday