'Twist' opens with a voice-over narration, telling the audience that this is a story with "no singing, no dancing, and definitely no happy ending". Well, aside from the worst sales pitch, firstly it definitely does have a happy ending (don't worry, you won't care), and secondly, it's emblematic of a fairly big issue I had with this film - that it has absolutely no clue if it wants its audience to remember 'Oliver Twist' or not.
Allow me to clarify. Martin Owen's ('Killers Anonymous') 2021 'Twist' is a modern retelling of the Charles Dickens novel 'Oliver Twist', the story of a young orphan boy who's taken in by Fagin to be part of a group of juvenile pickpockets. It's a wonderful story, and portrayed so expertly in 1968's musical film, 'Oliver!' I should add here that when I say expertly, I mean in the sense that it's dearly treasured, not that it's a faithful adaption. Anyway, you know the classic story, so I won't go into it. But the strangest thing about 'Twist' is that it genuinely has no idea if it wants to be a homage, a wink, a parallel, or complete coincidence.
Sure, there are names we are familiar with, and they even pan the camera to show Dickens' novel displayed on the shelf. At one point, a cop suggests that maybe the name "Fagin" is a codename, but then doesn't bat an eyelid at the bizarre coincidence that he works with a Sikes, or has a member of his gang called Dodger. Likewise, the name Oliver Twist is given no second thought by anyone, perhaps because he chooses to go simply by "Twist". Sure, why not?
In this version of the story, Oliver is played by Raff Law (Jude's son), a street artist and impressive free jumper who longs to be part of a family. That family is found in the form of fellow parkour expert and love interest Red (Sophie Simnett, TV's 'Daybreak'), Batesey (Franz Drameh, 'Attack the Block') and of course, Dodger (Rita Ora, 'Pokémon Detective Pikachu'). They are banded together by Fagin (Michael Caine, 'The Prestige', 'The Dark Knight' Trilogy), who in this version of events is an ex-art dealer seeking revenge against his former partner, Losberne (David Walliams, 'Missing Link', TV's 'Little Britain'). Amongst it all there is Bill Sikes (Lena Headey, 'Fighting With My Family'), the malicious and violent member of the Fagin gang whose temper and heavy hands threaten to destroy everything in her path.
Actually, I'd be lying if I said that the strangest thing about the film was its indecisive links to the novel. The strangest aspect of 'Twist' is that somehow, despite so many baffling artistic choices, it manages to convince a really stellar cast to take part. Unfortunately, they offer little in the way of lifting this otherwise awful and cringe-worthy script. Caine gives off the impression that there are many other places he'd rather be, and Ora showcases a valid attempt at acting, but might better trying her luck at singing and being a make-up ambassador. Walliams has absolutely no idea if he's meant to be a weird camp villain, a sinister presence lurking in the dark, or something else completely. In fairness to him, by bringing in this new character, the film doesn't really know who the main antagonist of the film should be focused on - and that's a problem.
The strangest thing about 'Twist' is that it genuinely has no idea if it wants to be a homage, a wink, a parallel, or complete coincidence.
I don't want to say too much about the accents out of fear that some of them may be genuine, but I also have to say that they were so cringeworthy and awful that there is no way they could possibly be real. It's like their dialect coach told them to watch Guy Ritchie movies, but make it worse. That could actually be said for a lot of this film, with its editing style and east London setting certainly make for a cheap Ritchie rip-off.
I could go on and list all the nonsense that this film has to offer. Like showing the London city skyline at almost every scene change (we get it, it's in London); a traffic warden somehow having the authority and time to tackle a citizen after hours in a park; or the wild and frantic edit cuts while the stuntmen do their thing. The deluge of garbage goes on, but there's only so much I can berate before it feels too harsh.
I always like to say something I enjoyed about a film, even if it seems there is little to celebrate. In this case, I could say that if you have absolutely nothing else to watch, it will cost you no money, and you can be assured of getting this time back in another parallel universe, then willingly seek out this movie. Raff Law really looks like his father, so that's something. Also, it's really impressive to see the parkour set pieces, even if they are questionably filmed.
When Oliver approaches Mr Bumble and nervously shakes as he famously says, "Please sir, can I have some more?" I can say with some certainty that he wasn't talking about this version of the story.