This OLIVER TWIST is nothing like the 1968 musical; no one is happy to be poor and dirty, and ongoing lack of hope makes street kids more desperate and crude than cute. Still, in Roman Polanski's film of Dickens' saga, Oliver is mostly adorable. In part, this is because he's so frail and pale and broken -- vulnerability and victimization make him sympathetic, of course, as does his stubborn faith in human goodness. The, er, twist here has to do with Oliver's brutal, eventually insane pickpocket mentor, Fagin, an infamously Anti-Semitic character, more than once imagined through blatantly anti-Semitic filters, with hook nose and bent body to reflect his depraved and ugly soul. Here he's the villain who does the right thing, recalling the decent Nazi officer who helped the utterly wasted Szpilman to live because he appreciated his playing.
Oliver Twist runs into the usual problems of films based on Dickens -- it's episodic and long (130 minutes). It's also dark and evocative, beautifully shot by Pawel Edelman, and occasionally violent, when Oliver is beaten, kidnapped, injured, and kidnapped again. That Oliver is so relentlessly caught up, carried, imprisoned, and beaten down, makes him an effective, if conventional, sign of ongoing and terrible classism. It also makes him a curious protagonist, not quite chameleonic, as he retains his gullible sweetness throughout, but certainly malleable and abject. Parents may want to consider their children's sensitivities before allowing their kids to watch.