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Oliver Twist (2005)

Adapting a literary classic is a slippery slope, especially when it's already been made by a master (David Lean) and won the Best Picture Oscar (1968's Oliver!). It helps in these situations to be a very talented filmmaker, and 2005's adaptation of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist has the benefit of being made by Roman Polanski as his follow up to The Pianist (2002), which netted him an Oscar for Best Director. Unfortunately, adapting classic literature carries a whiff of Oscar-bait (and all the excitement of a junior-high class), which means this Twist was eked out theatrically and will find more of an audience on home video and in the dorms of students too lazy to read the Cliffs Notes. Barney Clark stars as the titular Twist, the orphan who asks for more food and is offered as an apprentice. When such does not work out, Oliver finds himself walking to London and makes the acquaintance of the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden), who leads him to the crime lord of lost boys, Fagin (Ben Kingsley). Fagin mentors Oliver in the ways of thievery, but on his first outing Twist is too scared to do any robbing, although he's fingered by the police anyway. Too ill to defend himself, it is bookshop owner and witness Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) who comes to his defense and offers to take the boy in. But fearing the boy will ruin Fagin's enterprise, Twist is snatched away by the evil Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman) and forced to rob the home of Mr. Brownlow, which leads to a shooting and Sykes's desire to rid the world of Twist. It's easy to draw biographical parallels in the stories of Twist, Dickens, and Polanski: All were orphaned, and through this Polanski is able to draw a strong narrative out of the book. Where his adaptation differs is in its approach to Fagin, who has earned some anti-Semitic portrayals for his greed and abuse of children. Here, Polanski doesn't so much soften the character as point out that, in his way, he looks after the children and teaches them some useful skills. In this, Polanski's film finds its greatest strength — it's a portrait of connivers who aren't all bad. Otherwise, this adaptation is respectable and well-shot by Pawel Edelman. Still, it leaves behind a lingering sense of something that's simply good — the curse of being a modest work by a great talent. Sony's DVD release of Oliver Twist offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include the featurettes "Twist by Polanski" (29 min.), "The Best of Twist" (18 min.), and "Kidding with Oliver Twist" (6 min.). Also included are bonus trailers. Keep-case.

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