Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 29, 2021 11:42 am 
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London art pranksters - and they never mention Banksy. But his spirit hovers over this Dickens knockoff plot-line

This modernization of Dickens' Oliver Twist has Michael Caine as Fagan and Raff Law, Jude's son, as Oliver Twist in what's very much a sparkling modern-day London. Twist is a young graffiti artist and master of parkour (or freerunning), and outsider and an orphan who agrees to join Fagan's "family" (adult here) and is turned by Fagan over to the tutelage of a tomboy called Red (Sophie Simnett) whose building-jumping skills equal or better his. The Artful Dodger is reprogrammed as Dodge in a gender switch to the style-mad singer and sometime Raff Law girlfriend Rita Ora. The assignment is revenge against an art dealer called Losborne (an amusingly stuffy David Walliams) who Fagan says stole all he had when he, formerly, was an art dealer himself, and he plans to repay in kind. What follows is a caper.

Many are hard on this film, understandably frustrated that it is in no way a suitable updated replica of the Dickens novel and making the accusation that it's "just another Guy Ritchie knockoff." I certainly hope not that - though the Independent critic Clarisse Loughrey who says it makes some clever points, and certain heavies and zooms and twisty camera moves do look dangerously Ritchie. This isn't a great film. But its main actors have charm, it has its moments, and if you go with the flow, it delivers a bit of fun. It is hard to admire, but still likable.

Caine is old (rather remarkably, 88 now), but he has lost neither his cockney accent nor his timing. An appealing lad, Raff Law is the image of his father and even has the same soft, hoarse voice, but sports youthful fashions that look like Justin Bieber's Drew, but probably aren't since he is loyal to British labels. Style aside, he may lack the depth at this point to make this somewhat thinly written material solider, but the emphasis is on the caper, the action, and "freerunning" in this instance indeed involves a lot of running from the start, when Twist, joined by Red, gives some cops the slip hoofing it along narrow London side streets.

The anti-Losborne caper's first focus is a genre painting of ruffled ladies, "The Harlot's Progress: The Arrest," one of series of six by William Hogarth, up for auction at Dotheboys (Sothebys, get it?). In the effort to steal it in the middle of an auction, Fagan's crew and Fagan himself on hand disguised as a Russian oligarch in big fake black mustache, typically find their maneuvers going wrong and later, in complicated ways, right.

It feels odd to have a story about contemporary London art crime and raucous street art exploits and no Banksy, but there is a "Batesy" (Franz Drameh), a black fellow. Dickens' sinister bad guy Sikes ("Game of Thrones'" Lena Headey) is an murderous lesbian in a long black coat who undermines the Fagan "family" at every turn. She considers Red her moll but Red thinks otherwise and has her eye on Twist, aka Oliver, now.

The way the paintings are straightened out at the end (described in a TV newscast rather than shown) and the introduction of Twist's painting in a major museum show are further evidence, I'd say, that the spirit of Banksy's genius jiggery-pokery hovers over this charming if not thoroughly successful film throughout.

Twist, 90 mins., was released in the UK Jan. 29, 2021 and was reviewed there then (Bradshaw gave it two out of five stars). It comes out in the US in theaters, on digital, and on demand Fri., Jul. 30, 2021.

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