Roman Polanski’s dark but splendid vision of Charles Dickens’ classic novel is about as harrowing a “children’s tale” as any sane person could imagine. Oliver (Barney Clark) is a young orphan of about age 10 who is sent (briefly) to the workhouse in the English countryside, is given away to a rather cruel shopkeeper and his wife, escapes and walks over 70 miles to London where he meets the Artful Dodger (Harry Eden), and is thrust into the middle of a group of young pickpockets being run by the exploitative but (comparatively) decent Fagin (Ben Kingsley), whose business is unfortunately entwined with the evil Bill Sykes (Jamie Foreman). Oliver has the chance at a good life after a misunderstanding with a kindly old man named Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke), but that doesn’t last long. In Fagin’s circle, there’s even a kindly young prostitute named Nancy (Leanne Rowe), who has hair of crimson and a kind heart, and who will prove instrumental to Oliver’s survival. Roman Polanksi (“The Pianist,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown”) is known for his dark tales of fates spiraling downward, often psychologically affected, as in the case of films like “The Tenant” and “Repulsion.” He might not seem like the obvious choice for directing this beloved Dickens tale (which previously inspired a 60’s musical by Carol Reed!), but the material is dark enough and Polanski, a Holocaust survivor as a child, is gritty enough to make this work, and surely he must have relied upon a questionable benefactor or two as a young orphan himself. London is presented here as a dirty, brutal place where you almost have to watch your own back, because nobody’s going to watch it for you; indeed, this may seem even darker than the Dickens novel you’ll recall. The cast, particularly Kingsley as the crusty old fence, is solid as a rock and the film is very well-made. A strong piece of work, and an overlooked gem.
Monthly Archives: September 2005
Erik Van Looy’s film is a tense, brilliant, suspenseful and hypnotically absorbing thriller like only Europeans can make them. Jan Decleir gives a riveting performance as Angelo Ledda, a hitman from Marseilles heired to travel to Antwerp, Belgium and snuff out the last remaining connections to a child prostitution ring. Showing symptoms of an onset of Alzheimer’s, Ledda has a sudden strike of conscience and can’t go through with his job. His cohorts aren’t too happy about this either. Investigating the string of dead bodies that Angelo leaves in his wake is a detective named Vincke, who is just one step behind Angelo the entire time. This is a somewhat hyperkinetic, but thoughtful character study of cops and criminals, like something the great Jean-Pierre Melville could’ve made back in the day; near-perfect!