by Amy Diaz
Charles Dickens, that
Jerry Bruckheimer of the 1800s, weaves class satire and anti-Semitism
through the tale of a plucky child making his way in Oliver Twist,
another of the insufferable books from your high school English days
given a big-screen treatment.
Only, unlike the Jane
Austen books or even the occasional reworking of Jane Eyre, Roman
Polanski (the movieís director) doesnít bother to fun up or make
visually interesting this tale. Nor do we get nearly enough tightening
up of the plot (Dickens was paid by the word ó I assure you that many of
them were unnecessary).
But great literature
neednít be funned up, you might argue. Iíd argue that the aspects of
Dickens which make him an entertaining read arenít the stories
themselves but the details, which are difficult to translate to the
screen. His stories, though crammed with characters and subplots, do not
feature terribly many appealing, interesting or three-dimensional
people. Oliver Twist (played here by Barney Clark) is a perfect example
of this. Though the movieís protagonist, heís not an even remotely
interesting character. Heís a wimp, tossed about by the story and other
characters (who at least get one note to Twistís none) and dragged
through all manner of plot without any motivation. An orphan who is
passed off from one horrible living condition to another, Twist gets to
do little more than tremble and cry, character traits that get
increasingly aggravating as the movie pushes us to each new horror.
Itís left, therefore,
to other characters to be interesting. Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman), the
Artful Dodger (Harry Eden) and Fagin (Ben Kingsley) give just enough
life to their characters to keep us from falling asleep ó though Faginís
Shylock-esque level of stereotype makes you wish you could close your
eyes for a few moments.
commentary is the only part of the movie which displays any real zest.
The societal safety net built to catch the poor like Oliver is one more
likely to strangle a person than protect him. When giving us examples of
the absurdities and injustices of such a rigid system, the movie
crackles and sparkles with the electricity that makes Dickensí books
still worth reading.
sketchy, half-baked nature of Dickensí story is a sterile, passionless
tone to the movie. We get a perfect representation of grimy 19th-century
England without the sense that it is a lived-in place. Likewise, the
actors, though skilled, never really feel like more than people dressed
in costumes reciting lines. At least when Bruckheimer gives us
half-baked adventure, syrupy emotion and disinterested acting he also
treats us to a few explosions.