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Twist (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

TWIST (2021)

Starring Raff Law, Michael Caine, Lena Headey, Rita Ora, Sophie Simnett, Noel Clarke, David Walliams, Franz Drameh, Jason Maza, Dominic Di Tommaso, Leigh Francis, Samuel Leakey, Sally Collett, Martin Owen, Finley Pearson, Jade Alleyne, Adam J Bernard, Elliot James Langridge, Decca Heggie, Stephen Uppal and Tanya Burr.

Screenplay by John Wrathall & Sally Collett.

Directed by Martin Owen.

Distributed by Saban Films. 92 minutes. Rated R.

If you ever wondered what would happen if Charles Dickens’ classic title character of Oliver Twist were a parkour-jumping graffiti artist in modern London – well, I guess now you can find out.

Luckily, Dicken’s novel is a sturdy enough piece of storytelling that it can be massaged into some odd shapes; the book also inspired the classic musical Oliver! in the sixties. While in the long run Twist doesn’t work as a movie, it is often pretty watchable, mostly because of its canny choice of source material.

The basic storyline of a young orphan in London who falls in with a band of petty thieves is for the most part intact here. However, unlike the in original story, Twist portrays its hero as a young adult (although there are some flashbacks to his childhood). Oliver Twist is played by Raff Law (son of Jude Law and actress Sadie Frost, who is a spitting image of his dad, and shares some of his film charisma).

Twist changes things simply to change them. Beyond it being set in the modern day and everyone being older in this telling than the children of the novel, the classic characters of The Artful Dodger (rechristened Dodge) and Bill Sikes (called merely Sikes here) are both played by women (singer Rita Ora and Game of Thrones star Lena Headey). Also, the criminal “family” is no longer made up of common pickpockets, now they are high-end art thieves.

In fact, honestly, other than the names and the basic premise, Twist really doesn’t have all that much in common with the novel it is supposedly based upon – or at least it takes some huge liberties with the plot. It is no longer a drama – and no one breaks out in song – now it’s more of a hyperactive Guy Ritchie-esque action caper film. And certainly, Dickens never imagined his characters hopping from roof to roof like extreme daredevils and tagging high rise buildings.

The filmmakers were smart enough to hire Michael Caine to play the central character of Fagin, the elder ringleader of the band of misfits. This is nearly perfect casting, even if Caine doesn’t exactly exert himself in this role. (You sort of get the feeling that he recognizes the fact that the film is going a little wonky, so as an old pro he just powers through as best he can.) Frankly, I wish he had let loose a little more in the part to explore the literary Fagin’s eccentric side – Caine plays him more like a fatherly small-time mob boss – but Caine is still the best thing here.

Law, in his first starring rule, does his best. He is likable, but he is saddled with a role that is frequently kind of ridiculous and some awful dialogue, so the best we can say is that Twist shows he has the potential to be a star like his dad, somewhere down the line. Ora and Headey also have roles that don’t quite work – although Headey sells the cartoonish villainy of goth lesbian tough Sikes with gusto.

Beyond Caine, the actor who comes out looking best is Sophie Simnett, adding dimensions that aren’t really in the script to the character of Red (a.k.a. Nancy, as she was named in the book and is occasionally called here). Red is caught in the middle of an ugly love triangle between Sikes (who she is obviously trying to get away from but who won’t let her free), and the cute new stunt-jumping urban artist Twist.

All of this leads to an overly busy and not very believable art heist in which plot coherence plays second fiddle to what the filmmakers feel would seem like cool stunts – including even more of those inexplicable rooftop jumps.

I do believe there is a place in the world for a modern-day variation of Oliver Twist. After all, many good modern films have been loosely based on the classics – including Clueless, Bridget Jones’s Diary, 10 Things I Hate About You, Easy A, She’s All That, She’s the Man and even sort of The Dark Knight Rises. Also, a couple of years ago, a different Dickens novel was totally reinvented (although not in the modern day) with the terrific The Personal History of David Copperfield.

Sadly, Twist couldn’t quite make that leap. (See what I did there?) However, you must give them a certain amount of credit for having the bravery to try.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: July 30, 2021.


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