Reviewed by: David Stanners

Twist should kickstart 24-year-old director Jacob Tierney's career straight into pole position. A contemporary slant on Dickens's 19th century Oliver Twist, he has swapped the slums and pickpockets of London's East End for the equally scabrous lifestyles of rent boys in a dilapidated poor-house in Toronto.

All the original names are more or less retained, but the perspective is shifted from Oliver to Dodge (Nick Stahl, from Terminator 3), based on the Artful Dodger. Other characters include Fagin (Gary Farmer) as a fat, abusive pimp and landlord at the doss house, Oliver (Joshua Close) as a naïve hapless victim of circumstance and Bill Sikes as Fagin's insidious evil boss.

The action kicks off in a restaurant the morning after. Dodge has been out all night pounding the beat and stops off for his usual coffee with waitress Nancy (Michelle Pelletier). There, he spots a lost, innocent-looking young man, face down in the corner. Surprise, surprise, it's Oliver! In no time, Dodge is bantering in wily Dodge-style and offers him a place to stay. After meeting Fagin, their line of business becomes apparent and Oliver is sucked into the nether world of doom and gloom.

He learns the trade alongside Dodge, but is soon left to his own devices. On the beat, he encounters a series of sordid misfits, but soon comes across a senator, who merely wants to pay him to talk and listen. Unlike some of the other boys in the house, it becomes clear that Oliver is homosexual and has feelings for both the senator and Dodge, whom he feels gratitude towards for finding him a place to stay.

The rest of them are a different breed. Charley (Moti Yona) has a girlfriend and Dodge, encouraged by Fagin, is completely dependent on heroin. Thus, regardless of his sexual persuasion - which is unclear - he is locked into a downward cycle with no way out. When his older brother David (Tygh Runyan) visits from Quebec to try and drill sense into him, he rebels even further, before descending into a psychological maelstrom of terror and carnage.

Tierney has tried to stay faithful to Dickens's themes of working-class fate, the unbreakable vicious cycle and tragic acceptance of your designated lot in life. On one level, it works. Dodge's dependency on heroin, as well as Fagin's instillation of fear and sporadic acts of violence, holds him in his squalid circumstances. But this is insufficient reason for the other boys to be there, which is where the film's credibility lapses. Lack of character development in Charley and, to some extent, Oliver, hinders the cause.

Still, the performances are superb. Stahl is first class, as Dodge, conveying a complex and despondent young character with attitude and grit. Close, as Oliver, is also commendable, in a suitably understated and enigmatic portrayal.

This is an accomplished directorial debut by Tierney. Shaping up the way he is, it won't be long before studio bosses are asking: "Please sir, may I have some more?"

Reviewed on: 21 Jan 2004
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Very modern take on Dickens’s classic tale Oliver Twist.
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Director: Jacob Tierney

Writer: Jacob Tierney

Starring: Joshua Close, Nick Stahl, Gary Farmer, Moti Yona, Gary Farmer, Tygh Runyan, Stephen McHattie, Michele-Barbara Pelletier

Year: 2003

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada


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