‘Twist’ movie review: hip new update ain’t Dickens’ Oliver

Parkour! Graffiti! Daring art heists! Twist, a hip new update to the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist now streaming on Sky in the UK, certainly isn’t your father’s Oliver. No, wait… maybe this is your dad’s Oliver. Throw in some breakdancing and this thing could easily pass for Breakin’ 3: Artful Dodgeree.

No, despite the very best of intentions and a terrific cast, this one just might not speak to today’s youth in the fashion intended.

Rafferty Law (son of Jude) stars as the titular Twist, re-imagined from Dickens’ eight-year-old orphan into a twentysomething graffiti artist struggling to survive on the mean streets of modern-day London.

Those mean streets include Dickens’ orphans Dodge (30-year-old Rita Ora) and Bates (Franz Drameh), who Twist runs into on a standard run-from-the-cops scene that end with Oliver’s trousers in the hands of police as he parkours his way over a fence and up a rooftop.

They lead him to Fagin (Michael Caine), and Sikes (Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey) and Nancy (Sophie Simnett), and we’ve got the familiar crew together for this hip new update to Dickens’ old classic.

But instead of training these ‘kids’ in the art of pickpocketing and survival skills on the streets, Fagin now teaches them… Danny Ocean-style art heists? As the street kids stake out a modern art gallery curated by Mr. Losberne (David Walliams) from a surveillance van outfitted with high-tech gadgetry, Twist not only loses all connection to the source material, but any semblance of reality.

The more Twist insists on sticking to details from the source novel, the more ridiculous it becomes. Transported to this strange new world, Headey’s vicious Sikes has now lost all of the character’s motivation, and the film turns utterly senseless as it uses her incongruous psychopathy to drive the narrative forward.

Despite some winning performances (Law, especially, is enigmatic in the lead) Twist is a real mess from conceptual and structural standpoints, and a real insult to the original material. Somehow, nine (!) credited writers have failed to improve upon this timeless classic.

That’s a real shame. A realistic modern version of Oliver Twist could really thrive: Dickens based the original novel, after all, on actual social ills of the time, which included poverty, child labor and class struggle. Today, one could imagine an Oliver Twist that takes the form of something like The Wire, with Fagin an Avon Barksdale-like figure who recruits kids into dealing drugs.

Instead, 2021’s Twist tackles the real social ills of our time: parkour, graffiti, and 30-year-old “orphans” being roped into Ocean’s 11-style art heists. If that sounds like your idea of fun, you may find something to like here.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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