|First screened at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, Twist caused a minor stir with its up to date variation on Charles Dickens classic novel Oliver Twist. In Tierney's film, the boys are not pickpockets but male street hustlers who prey and are preyed upon by men seeking sexual encounters with young boys. The film is gritty and leaves one feeling grimy, but is quite effective. |
Dickens novel has been filmed many times, most famously in a musical version Oliver (1968) which won the Academy Award for best picture. There are no singing urchins in this film; there are no feel good moments, only grief, drug addiction, loneliness and despair. Gone are the filthy streets of Victorian London, the workhouses, replaced by the dark and dank streets of Toronto, where these young men ply their trade in frigid temperatures, hoping to make enough money to score a hit of their drug of choice.
Dodge (Nick Stahl) is a veteran of the streets, having come from Montreal knowing the take no prisoners attitudes of the streets. One evening he brings back to the flat Oliver (Joshua Close) an angelic looking lad who Dodge feels will do well in the business. Oliver has run away from his foster home, thus Dodge brings him to Fagin (Gary Farmer) where the young man will be taught the ways of the streets. Hopelessly na´ve to the ways of the streets, Oliver falls in love with Dodge who spurns his advances, choosing instead to ridicule the boy. Despite the harsh treatment he receives initially, Oliver eventually has a tremendous impact on the lives of the people who take him in beginning with Nancy (Michele-Barbra Pelletier) the girlfriend of drug lord Bill Sykes, and dispenser of the drugs to the boys. In an interesting choice from the filmmaker we never see Sykes, though we hear enough about him that he becomes a fearsome presence left best to our imaginations.
Twist is an extraordinary work from Jacob Tierney, who began his career as an actor. This film is his feature debut as a director-writer and displays great promise. His command of structure and storytelling is very strong, and the performance he coaches from his actors are uniformly excellent. Told from the point of view of Dodge, replacing Dickens character the Artful Dodger, the film is tough and powerful, holding nothing back in its portrait of young male prostitutes. The boys sleep in something of a dormitory in an oversized flat, on filthy beds and blankets, overseen by Fagin, played with malice by Farmer.
Nick Stahl gives a fine performance as Dodge, the street wise punk who initiates Oliver into the sordid world in which he exists. There is a sense of a lost life in Stahl's performance, as get the impression he could have done so much more than this. Underneath his resignation to his life, is an anger that gives his performance the right edge it needs. This is a potentially dangerous character who would do harm to anyone who crossed him or stood in the way of his fix.
Joshua Close as Oliver makes an impressive debut, though there were times when his beauty seemed to overtake his performance. Indeed he looks like an angel, and is clearly out of his element in this world of liars and crooks, (and we get that), but I think the director and Close himself relied a tad too much on the actors' looks for the performance.
The film has a look and feel that reminded me of the great film Trainspotting (1996), so much so that when it ended I wanted a shower in the worst way. The director simply plunges the audience into this world and dares us to inhabit it for a short time with the characters.
Though the film is cold and dark, the director allows sparks of compassion and humanity to sneak into the story, which humanizes the characters within.
One of the best Canadian films of the year.