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state of the arts

Twist’s artlessness is more infuriating than funny – this might just be the worst film of the year

Starring Rita Ora, Michael Caine and Jude Law’s son Rafferty Law, this new ‘twist’ on the Charles Dickens classic is yet another stinker in the Sky Originals film stable

Friday 29 January 2021 17:47 GMT
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Twistin’ the night away: Pop hitmaker Rita Ora turns in a relatively agreeable performance in the Artful Dodger role
Twistin’ the night away: Pop hitmaker Rita Ora turns in a relatively agreeable performance in the Artful Dodger role (© Fagin Productions Limited.)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Where to start with Martin Owen’s Twist? It opens with a voiceover gravely informing us that there will be “no singing, no dancing, and definitely no happy ending”, as if readying us for the complete works of Ken Loach. Instead, it takes Oliver Twist, Dickens’ 19th-century tale of hardship and lost innocence, moves it to the present day and turns it into an art heist movie with a side-order of parkour.  

There’s fleeting fun in the opening sequence in which a young scallywag empties a safe and then sets off across London’s rooftops, sliding down metal staircases, splashing through puddles and doing entirely unnecessary somersaults, with the plod in hot pursuit. But what follows is a dog’s dinner of a film that has all the depth and ambition of a beer advert. Right now, on what feels like the 837th day of lockdown, we deserve better.

The film is yet another stinker in the Sky Originals film stable, which has also yielded the screamingly awful Serenity, in which Matthew McConaughey’s Popeye-esque sea captain is torn between a tuna fish and his ex-wife, and Four Kids and It, a film based on the Edith Nesbit classic that arrived entirely drained of magic.

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‘Aving a bubble: Michael Caine plays an updated version of the nefarious Fagin
‘Aving a bubble: Michael Caine plays an updated version of the nefarious Fagin (Fagin Productions Limited)

Twist is available to watch now on Sky Cinema and Now TV.

In the case of Twist, one of the problems with drawing on a well-known, frequently adapted story is that it’s always going to be measured against other attempts. Here Twist is pitting itself against highly accomplished films by David Lean, Carol Reed and Roman Polanski, and that’s not including the many stage versions and made-for-TV movies. There’s even Oliver & Company, a schmaltzy yet charming Disney cartoon set in New York in which Oliver is a kitten thrust into a world of wheeler-dealing dogs.

More pointedly, Twist arrives exactly a year after Armando Iannucci’s A Personal History of David Copperfield, a clever, affectionate and original rendering of Dickens’ eighth novel and a masterclass in the art of updating a classic. Owen’s Twist doesn’t so much diverge from the source material as glance at its Wikipedia summary. Certainly, no one in the cast need have read any Victorian literature as part of their homework. There’s no fearsome Mr Bumble, though we do have Michael Caine as Fagin, which one imagines is the sole reason this project got off the ground.

And so, instead of a poignant tale of a bewildered boy cast adrift in a menacing world, Twist tells of an adult street artist called Oliver (played by Rafferty Law, scion of one-time Primrose Hill power couple Jude Law and Sadie Frost), who was orphaned as a child after his art-loving single mum died. Since then, he has been living by his wits, and redecorating city skyscrapers with gigantic William Blake-inspired murals (he may be penniless, but he can magic thousands of pounds worth of spray paints, scaffolding and pulleys out of thin air).

Oliver is homeless, and can be found kipping under the benches in the National Gallery, even though his complexion is that of a pampered influencer high on coconut water and jollies to Dubai. While running away from a copper, he meets Artful Dodger – or Dodge – played, obviously, by Rita Ora, who invites her to meet her boss, Fagin, a former art dealer now handling stolen paintings.

Law is fine when he’s being the cheeky scamp doing forward rolls atop London’s residential blocks. But ask him to show emotion, as he is required to do when asked about his mother, and he cleaves to the Joey Tribbiani school of acting, furrowing his brow and sniffing the air as if someone’s farted. Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey, last seen buried under a pile of rubble in King’s Landing, provides a scenery-chewing turn as Sikes, transformed here into a kohl-eyed bruiser whose costume has been nicked from Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Despite an iffy accent and a daft array of wigs, Ora at least makes a personable petty crook, which presumably stood her in good stead for her brush with the law over her super-spreading birthday do.

Martin Owen’s insipid take on a literary classic is an early contender for the year’s worst film
Martin Owen’s insipid take on a literary classic is an early contender for the year’s worst film (Fagin Productions Limited)

All are hobbled by the writing, however, which comes with bum-clenching cock-er-nee lines such as “Oh my giddy aunt, what is happening with your barnet?” and a gratingly exuberant soundtrack seemingly culled from Now That’s What I Call Proper Geezer Music. It’s a shame, not least because, for all its contemporary aspirations, Twist has zero interest in doing something unusual or original, instead relying on ye olde freeze frames, fast cuts and endless shots of the London skyline in place of atmosphere.  

It might just about pass muster for a hate-watch, along the lines of Netflix’s egregious Emily in Paris and the ghastly Rebecca, though its artlessness is more infuriating than funny. It’s a picture for Britpop-loving throwbacks who view Guy Ritchie as the patron saint of cinema and for whom Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is their Citizen Kane. Admittedly, we are still only in January, but it’s hard to imagine a shoddier film being released this year. Twist is a load of old pony and no mistake.

Twist is available to watch now on Sky Cinema and Now TV

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