Wait a moment while I take my antidepressants then Iíll have a go at describing this film. The word turgid seems to do it nicely. Someone clearly had a wizzo idea to use the Oliver Twist plot and update it to modern date Toronto. Pick-pockets become prostitutes and, hey presto, you have a modern allegory. Only, the idea just didnít work for me.
The film is incredibly flat and basically dull. There just isnít enough in it to make it credible that people react or behave as they do. Bill Sykes, for example, (remember Oliver Reed in this role?) doesnít even appear. Heís just talked about, building up some menace that he will suddenly appear, but he never does. Fagan canít act. The boys seem to be half-asleep.
Nick Stahl does a good as Dodger but it all seemed a bit formulaic to me. He finds Oliver and brings him back to the den; he gets him into hustling; then we find heís fuelling a heroine habit; then, surprise, surprise, heís been abusedÖ. It just had nothing new to say, and the old stuff it trotted out wasnít presented well enough to hold the attention.† By the time there was one interesting sub-plot with Dodger and his brother, Iíd lost interest. The dialogue consisted of mumbled grunts from one and f***s from the other, so that wasnít all that riveting either. The big shocking scene between them was completely unexplained and seemed to belong to another film.
The last thing that really hacked me off with this film was that someone (I blame the guy with the wizzo idea) decided to film it in Toronto in the winter. Okay, I got that the boys were cold. It must be cold hustling. Itís cold on the streets. Itís cold living in a deserted warehouse. Did I mention it was cold? Every single conversation seems to take place with the boys hopping, blowing, puffing, shivering, noses running, coughingÖ. I GOT that it was cold! At one point I was as desperate for them to go inside and get some coffee as they seemed to be.
So, I would say give this dud a complete miss. Itís not even a gay movie. The boys hustle, but they are all straight. Waste of my evening.
Not just another adaptation of a classic novel, this indie film is a fresh update that makes you think about teenage runaways and male prostitution just as the Victorians confronted child poverty and social inequality.† It has power and passion that does justice to Dickensí familiar characters.
The focus shifts from Oliver to the Artful Dodger, known as Dodge, played by Nick Stahl in a mesmerising performance that carries the film.† Heís in almost every scene, utterly convincing, with a horribly real tubercular cough and unhealthy pallor, smoking like a chimney and shooting up to get through Hell.
Itís a Canadian film set in Toronto, a dark and cold place of rundown warehouses, seedy diners and empty streets frequented by young hustlers turning tricks for a child sex ring, living together in a dilapidated warehouse.† Fagin watches over the boys, a pony-tailed man-mountain, alternately sympathetic and abusive.† But the man in charge is Bill, a character never actually shown onscreen, malignant and menacing.† Fagin is his tool, a weak, scared man who justifies his actions by telling himself he has no choice, heís only following orders.†
Nancy is a mother figure who works in the diner that provides food and warmth to the boys.† Fagin loves Nancy but sheís with Bill, who abuses her.†† The outline will be familiar if you know the book/film.† However this isnít a slavish adaptation.† There are important differences as the story unfolds.
Dodge meets Oliver in a diner.† Heís an angel, a beautiful and innocent runaway passed around by a series of foster families, looking for love & affection.† Dodge recruits him, to buy a breathing space because he doesnít want to work.†† Dodge shows Oliver the ropes, introducing him to the Senator, a client who likes to talk to boys.† But heís not the benevolent grandfather figure from the novel.
Itís an unrelentingly grim story that touches on child abuse, wife battering, family breakdown, sexual exploitation and drug addiction. Oliver is a sweet boy forced into a sordid lifestyle but strangely untouched by it.† He has a crush on Dodge, whoís about the same chronological age but so much older, empty inside, a lost soul.† As we find out more about his background and family history we really feel his hurt and anger with a world thatís made him what he is.†
Dodge is incapable of love and rejects Oliverís tentative advances.† I think Dodge wants Oliver to keep the innocence he has lost, though how he squares that with turning him into a rent boy Iím not sure.† I so wanted them to finds solace in each other, but this isnít a tale of romantic redemption, sadly.† Itís about the nature of evil and the impossibility of escaping the past, symbolised in one shocking scene I found difficult to watch.
Itís a tragedy with a sad inevitability. Darker than the Dickens story in that it doesnít sugar the pill by offering hope through fortuitous intervention, goodness rewarded.† Patterns of behaviour repeat, just as in real life. It left me raw and emotionally drained.
It isnít a gay movie, though some characters may be gay. Thereís little sex despite the subject matter, and that somehow makes it harder to bear.† Itís social commentary thatís never going to be turned into a cheeky chappy musical.† Oliver is under-developed but itís not his story this time.† Thereís no light relief, and thatís a bit hard to take.† Itís haunting, and considering it was made for $500,000 by a 23 year old first time director quite an achievement.† Itíd be worth paying money for Nick Stahl alone.† I enjoyed the commentary too.† Highly recommended.