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    What in the Dickens?

    "Oliver Twist" is awkwardly adapted to a Toronto junkie community in "Twist."


    The idea of taking Charles Dickens's "Oliver Twist" and "updating" it (by turning London pickpockets into Toronto street hustlers) might have sounded good on paper, but by the time this dreary, overwrought, and at times sadly laughable drama spills forth it becomes crystal-meth clear it wasn't.

    Written and directed by: Jacob Tierney.
    Adapted from Oliver Twist by: Charles Dickens.
    Cast: Joshua Close, Gary Farmer, James Gilpin, Josh Holliday, Mike Lobel, Max McCabe, Stephen McHattie, Andre Noble, Mich¸le-Barbara Pelletier, Tygh Runyan, Nick Stahl, Brigid Tierney, Moti Yona.
    Cinematography: Gerald Packer.
    Edited by: Mitch Lackie.

    Related links: All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Former television actor turned big-screen writer/director Jacob Tierney's intentions are strictly honorable, with the film bringing attention to the plight of Toronto's disaffected youth, many of them junkies who feel little choice but to turn tricks for a "living." As one character asks of another in the film, "Do you work [hustle] so that you can do this [shoot up]?" "No. I do this so that I can work."

    That's the most poignant observation in a film that suffers from a bad case of wet-behind-the-ears direction. This is only Tierney's second film behind the camera and it shows. The writing leaves much to be desired, and from a production standpoint the piece unfolds like a filmed version of the Toronto Plays and Players amateur production night. And it's not very well filmed either — the opening shot announces quite plainly that "no tripods were used in the production of this motion picture" and lighting, too, appears to be an afterthought. That said, the film is more dogmatic than Dogme 95.

    Amateur, with one or two exceptions, also describes the film's acting talent. Joshua Close, who plays the runaway Oliver with the David-like (as in Michelangelo's David) good looks, lacks charisma and acting chops; Mich¸le-Barbara Pelletier as Nancy, owner of "The Three Cripples" diner in which a lot of the action takes place, is stiff and obvious, as is Gary Farmer as the brutish Fagin. Disquietingly, both Pelletier and Farmer have several telephone "conversations" with someone named Bill and it soon becomes patently clear to the viewer that there's NOBODY ON THE OTHER END OF THE LINE!! Oliver? Nancy? Fagin? Bill? They didn't go and use the same names as Dickens, did they? They certainly did. Now that's either P.T. Anderson-styled chutzpah or a serious miscalculation (and my money's on the latter).

    The Artful Dodger (or simply Dodge as he goes by here) is played by Nick Stahl (from "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," "In the Bedroom," and "Bully") and, thankfully, he's one of the previously mentioned exceptions. I've always liked Stahl, who keeps picking interesting, non-obvious projects, and he delivers another thoughtful, down-and-dirty performance. Dodge is a flesh-and-blood disciple: hard-edged yet scared — and scarred — by life; down on his luck, battling occupational demons as well as familial ones. Three scenes involve Dodge's brother David (Tygh Runyan), who shows up to offer some self-righteous flagellation — two of these are so identically shot and scripted you can't tell them apart, and a third is just too incredible (and distasteful) for words.

    Stahl's presence and abilities keep you watching while Tierney's script renders almost everything else inconsequential. It's the idea that got away, a conceit that might have worked with tighter direction, convincing performers and, perhaps, a modicum of meaning, rather than meandering. Of course, there's nothing here a handful of show-stopping production numbers — or a good steam cleaning — couldn't fix.

    "Please sir can I have some more?" Not bloody likely.

    JULY 12, 2004

    Reader comments on Twist:

  • Twist - A latent perception   from Shane Snider, Dec 11, 2004
  • Re: Twist - A latent perception   from , Dec 25, 2004
  • Cute   from MIchelle, Dec 14, 2004
  • Twist is Fantastic   from Kai, Jul 20, 2006
  • Butterworth who???   from Wayne, Jul 8, 2007
  • Twist soundtrack   from Tammy, Jul 5, 2008
  • Re: Twist soundtrack   from Cat, Nov 29, 2008
  • Haunting   from MM, Jul 8, 2008

  • Post a comment on "Twist"