Charles Dickens gets a horrendous hipster update with a Gen Z butchering of his classic novel. Twist turns the nineteenth century tale of orphan pickpockets into a Guy Ritchie knockoff about freerunning. Rafferty Law, the spitting image of his famous father, plays “Oliver Twist” as a rooftop-leaping graffiti artist who falls in with a gang of trendy thieves. I was hoping to see a fresh and exciting new take on a beloved story. What we get is a brainless retelling that confuses style for substance.
We first meet “Oliver” as the cherished son (Samuel Leakey) of a doting mother (Sally Collett). Alone after a tragic loss, the teenaged Twist (Raff Law) grows up on the rough and tumble streets of London. He skillfully outruns law enforcement while tagging everything with his art. A fateful escape from a traffic cop leads him to Dodge (Rita Ora) and Batesy (Franz Drameh). They offer him a night’s refuge with their unique family.
Twist is introduced to Fagin (Michael Caine), a father figure who shelters runaways and uses them in his criminal schemes. Twist is instantly smitten by the beautiful Red (Sophie Simnett), a tomboy who’s also a bad-ass freerunner. Fagin prepares his young disciples for a lucrative art heist. But he’s forced to partner with Sikes (Lena Headey), a vicious gangster who keeps Red on a short leash. Twist becomes a critical part of their dangerous plan. Where the price of failure is a bullet from Sikes.
Twist is essentially a music video for freerunning and parkour acrobatics. The characters prance down stairs, flip over hedges, and bounce from roofs with a blaring soundtrack. Quick cut edits, extreme angles, and body cams attempt to add exhilaration; but end up being annoying and disorienting. Director Martin Owen (Killers Anonymous, Max Cloud) embraces his inner Guy Ritchie to a fault. His action scenes look choppy and are poorly staged. Then you factor in the laughable mechanics of the heist. It makes no sense at all. The film feels like key pieces of exposition were left out to facilitate the overblown stunts.
The gender swapping of two particular characters adds nothing interesting to the story. Rita Ora is pretty much invisible as the “The Artful Dodger”. Lena Headey’s turn as the antagonist “Sikes” feels tame. She beats up on “Red”, who we learn is really “Nancy” from the novel. But it’s entirely obvious that Twist will race to the rescue. She ends up being just another damsel in distress. Her fate in the book, along with the majority of the gang, was dark and had an emotional impact. This interpretation is meant to be upbeat. That’s clearly understood, but I feel an opportunity was lost to be more creative than just making the roles female.
Twist will only appeal to a limited audience. If you spend your time watching freerunning and parkour videos on YouTube, then this is the film for you. Everyone else looking for an “Oliver Twist” fix is better served checking out the many other film and television versions. Michael Caine and Lena Headey are wasted here. Time will tell if Rafferty Law has the talent of his father, or just another case of Hollywood nepotism. Twist is a production of Unstoppable Film and Television, Pure Grass Films, and Twist Entertainment. It will be released July 30th theatrically and on demand from Saban Films.