Ahoy, squirts! Quint here, post BMX BANDITS at the QT Fest, with a couple reviews of Oliver Twist through the lenses of Polanski and Edelman! This sounds phenomenal!
Hey, Harry! Whiteula here again. Yesterday I sent you reviews of Brokeback Mountain and The Corpse Bride (which, admittedly, may have been judged a little too harshly by me, having been screened immediately after Brokeback. I do still stand by the overall tone of the review, but would like to stress that I did find it very pleasing to the eye with its inventive if familiar visuals).
Today, I saw Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist. Firstly, let me tell you that I am a huge fan of the director and have seen pretty much all of his work (aside from Pirates), including early short subjects. I am particularly fond of Repulsion, The Tenant, Macbeth and Chinatown, and I would count Death and the Maiden and Frantic as mild disappointments.
This film deserves to take its place right alongside David Lean's 1948 classic adaptation of the same book, while- as a dramatic cinematic achievement- I believe that it towers over Carol Reed's 1968 musical version, which is- by comparison- too cloying and extravagant by far.
Have you ever seen the artwork on the covers of those Penguin Classic editions of the works of Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy? I'm talking about those pastoral scenes of the English countryside, that usual depict a lonely traveller or horse and cart travelling away down a dirt lane cutting through rolling green fields and woods. To watch this movie is to live in one of those paintings for two hours. The level of detail is so profound that the viewer can't help but be entirely lost in this world; London's streets are crowded with 19th century Londoners (as opposed to extras in costumes), all the props look like authentic antiques, and the actors handle them as though they are accustomed to doing so on an every day basis. Screenwriter Ronald Harwood never compromises with the period vernacular, even when there's a good chance that most modern audience members will not always understand what's being said.
The cinematography by Pawel Edelman is the kind of work that wins awards. The lighting in every shot is just mezmerizing, and is often used in jarring and affecting ways, while the exterior shots will make you want to take a hiking tour of England (okay, France). The pacing never falters, although the movie is not in any hurry either. Nothing is ever lingered on to make sure that the audience gets it (blink and you'll miss the moment when Oliver is brutally ordered by his spiteful new master to remove some window shutters, only to reach up and find that they are padlocked, all while literally getting his ass kicked). As far as Rachel Portman's score goes, it put a lump in my throat before the movie even started, as it accompanied opening credits displayed over a beautiful etching of the English countryside, much like the paintings I mentioned earlier.
The performances are excellent across the board. Oliver himself- Barney Clark- offers a bracingly unsentimental portrayal that never seems like acting. All the child actors are fantastic, which is rare. No one is too precious or showy, and the cocky comeraderie amongst Fagin's young crew seems very genuine. Speaking of Fagin, I think that Ben Kingsley may be up for some awards in the coming season. He completely disappears into this character, utilizing his voice and physicality deftly, transcending the need for any comparisons to other actors' takes on the character. If anyone brings a tear to your eye in this movie, it will be him. I feel the need to talk about all the actors in this film, but suffice it to say that to praise the leads so highly is to do an injustice to the rest of the players; they are all- without exception- excellent.
Anyone who has seen Tess knows that Polanski has the nineteenth century British literary adaptation nailed. This film is actually better. Much better (and I like Tess). Polanski knows how to let a story tell itself, using his personal style to support that end, rather than to announce himself to the audience. Oliver Twist is one of the best films of the year, and I will gladly pay to see it again the day it hits theaters.
Here's a review that has a few more problems with the movie, but still underlines how fantastic the performances, directing and cinematography are. Enjoy!
Just got back from the Oliver Twist world premiere at the toronto film fest. I figured I'd give you my brief thoughts on the picture in case anybody was interested. The thing with the picture is that there are many good things about it, but there's one big problem that overshadows everything. Great performances from everyone... I can't state this enough, the acting is just amazing. Very interesting characters all around. The shots, composition, lighting... Pawel Edelman and Polanski did a fantastic job visually. The set dec, costumes... every technical aspect of the filmmaking process was top notch and made me really believe in the world and the people. Now, the big problem. THE SCRIPT. They deviated from the novel which is okay, but I just felt the film was very dry. I didn't care about Oliver, even though Barney Clark was great, or any of the other characters for that matter. There were plenty of very forced jokes and it all just seemed very cold. There was plenty of physicality in the picture as well i.e. a fight between Oliver and that other boy near the begining, his name escapes me at the moment - but the punches, slaps seemed very theatrical, like he wasn't even hitting him and then the boy has black eyes - there's more of that, like when Oliver is punched in the face while running from authorities after they belive he stole a hankerchief at the bookstore. He gets punched out, but it's not much of a punch. These are small things, I know, but they take you out of the movie. The actors worked miracles with the material they had, but with very lackluster and boring dialogue, there's only so much they can do. I often found myself bored and really not caring about anything that was going on. The only entertaining scene in the whole picture was in the courthouse. Other than that, I was pretty disappointed and I felt it was a pretty useless picture. It's a shame too because they got so many things right, but your starting foundation is a good script and they missed the boat on that. In conclusion, this is not a terrible picture by any means, but it's not great either. It's like an overcooked steak with fantastic garnish and plenty of sauce to mask the charred exterior.