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OLIVER TWIST

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The hero of Roman Polanski's handsome new film is doubly familiar: He's both Dickens' parentless vagabond and an analog for the filmmaker's own experience as a Holocaust orphan (as also explored in The Pianist). The film's first half, filled with portents of death and imprisonment, is strangely enough its more hopeful; after Oliver (Jamie Foreman) is taken in by a wealthy benefactor, he's got nowhere to go but back down, bouncing between a series of would-be father figures including orphan-mentoring fence Fagin (Ben Kingsley). As Fagin, Kingsley is inspired, always as near minatory as pathetic. Oliver, however, is such a victim of circumstance that the second half of the film plain loses him, and feels like it just keeps happening even after you're no longer interested. Oliver's powerlessness is surely the point, but the film's climax and sad denouement fall emotionally flat. (BO)

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