First review of the year.
Now, I never really liked the Oliver Twist story. Overhyped, plain and simple. Oliver’s not exactly a lovable hero (and old Dickensian language from the book certainly didn’t make it easier), and in fact all but disappears from the second half of the story, leaving Fagin and Bill Sykes as the central characters for said second half of story, both of which are despicable characters whom one doesn’t even love to hate, one just hates. And what’s so interesting about the Artful Dodger anyway (asides from the name, I do like the name), and really, what’s so memorable about the line ‘please sir I’d like some more’ (even though it probably was rather blasphemous during the era it was written). Basically, it took me a month to finish the book, and the movie and play versions which I watch later weren’t that interesting either.
At this point your mind goes, aha! Why did you watch the movie and play, then?
Not completely sure, but I have to say that a lot of it has to do with hype. Hype gets to me easily – it is its job after all – and if a movie is hyped well and appealingly I will always try and give it the benefit of the doubt. What drawn me to this film version of Oliver Twist, was my friend’s insistence that it’s good and I ‘should watch it’, and the fact that Roman Polanski directs. Not that I’m a great Polanski fan, only watched one of his films. But, it’s interesting to find out what drawn him to this project.
Having watched it, my answer is this: not a clue.
However, I learned something about the way Polanski makes films, or at least, one aspect of it. I like depressing movies. I don’t know why, but I enjoy being depressed sometimes (as my friend keeps saying, it’s coz it keeps me weird and I prefer to be weird). However, Polanski doesn’t do depressing nicely.
No, what he does is, he takes a knife – and stabs you straight in the heart without much preparation. Then sits down and stares at you right in front of you as if it’s most normal thing in the world. Spoiler ahead – now, I can’t remember whether Nancy is bludgeoned to death in the original story, though I vaguely remember that she lives (she definitely lives in the previous film and play versions), but the fact that she dies here, and the manner at which it occurred, is depressing in a way that leaves me sad. Sad, as in, once it happened, that’s the only thing I could think about, no longer concentrating in the rest of the film, and that’s the one image that I leave the cinema with.
Now, when I say that I enjoy depressing movies, I guess it’s because, in those other movies, no matter how depressing, you’re led into it, and led to revel in it – in other words, it is romanticised. Think Hotel Rwanda, for example. I prefer this sort of being depressed, coz this is how I get enteretained. I didn’t get it here.
Is Polanski wrong to have Nancy killed? Of course not, and I don’t mean it in a politically correct ‘a filmmaker is entitled to whatever he wants to portray’ nonsense (politically correctness be damned). It was a perfectly sound decision, and it is his style. Chinatown was a classic partly because of that ending.
In fact, the movie itself is good. I really, really liked the fact that great pains were taken and no holds were barred to achieve one thing that I wished to see for a long time but have never seen, a thing that I would have strove for if I were making films myself – authenticity. There’s no pandering to beautiful (or at least acceptable-looking) faces or appealing and charismatic personalities, not even for the main cast (if you’re wondering why the film wasn’t more well-known …). The scenes of the town, the countryside, and of London were portrayed in such a way that I, as an audience, just thought – this is exactly how it was like. The dirtiness, the chaos, the mud – more importantly, the way people lived their life as if it was the most normal thing in the world, even though they have their gripes about it. The way the kids are treated – half animals. The complete dissimilarity of principles and values between aristocrat and middle class. The establishing shots of London. The Cockney accent (half the time I couldn’t understand what was said … a very good sign). Things like that.
And within this context the story works. I still don’t think the story itself is something to shout about, but with the story they had the filmmakers made a good film out of it (admittedly a literary-adapted film which breaks many rules about pacing). The acting was great. The kids were great – kids smoking pipes, nice touch. Ben Kingsley as Fagin was wonderful, exceeded my expectations. Certainly not the dull Fagin I envisioned from either the book, the play, or the previous film.
How Good The Film Is – 10/10 How Much I Liked It – 7/10
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