Tag Archives: Lena Headey

Maybe Pass on this Additional Helping of Oliver Twist


by Christie Robb

Have you ever found yourself reading a classic Victorian novel and wondering, “What if this was more like Ocean’s Eleven as directed by Guy Ritchie, but with parkour?”

A modern-day update of the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist, Martin Owen’s Twist imagines Oliver as an orphaned parkour enthusiast and Banksy-esque street artist. Oliver is swiftly recruited into a gang of art thieves and tasked with stealing a previously stolen Hogarth painting to salvage the reputation of Fagin (Michael Caine), who was a legitimate art dealer back in the day until his partner stole the Hogarth and pinned it on him.

The movie’s strength is in its depiction of parkour. The practitioners make the London cityscape into their playground, skipping across rooftops like stones on a still pond.

The plot and character development are handled with less dexterity. The teenage thieves are given highly specialized technical skills with no attempt at an explanation of how, for example, a minor might know how to clone a cell phone or fake the credentials of a fine art gallery. The characters are very thinly portraited, with each seeming to get about one emotion to embody.  Raff Law (song of Jude) as Twist is unflappably earnest with no undertone of the emotional baggage that a kid who was orphaned at 10 or 11 and lived alone on the streets of London would have accrued.

Even Lena Headey, who gives a very convincing depiction of rage, can’t overcome the script’s lack of an explanation of why she’s there and what exactly she has to do with everything except being an obstacle because the plot demands it.

Headey and Caine lend the film a certain gravitas it otherwise doesn’t really deserve. There’s certainly none of the concern with crushing, systemic poverty and the social class disparities contained in the source material. Oliver and the other young thieves are dressed stylishly, are glowing with good health, and get to hang out in a clubhouse furnished with classic arcade games, jukeboxes, and foosball tables. The morality of their lifestyle isn’t questioned as much as it is explained away as a romantic Robin Hood kind of thing where Fagin plays Hood and the kiddos are his Merry Men.  

Overall, the film is a rather lackluster adaptation of a classic that misses much of the original’s point. If you want to see young people executing artful feats of athleticism, dodge this flick and put on the Olympics.

Sibling Smackdown

Fighting With My Family

by Hope Madden

Rarely, if ever, has WWE PR been as charming as Stephen Merchant’s biopic Fighting with My Family.

A traditional underdog tale, the film is also savvy enough to know how to wield its source material to broaden its audience beyond your traditional WWE fanatic.

Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh) — or Britani or, later, Paige — takes part in her family’s business. Mornings, she hands out flyers to their wrestling events, mainly to passersby who look down their noses at the notion.

Afternoons she helps her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) coach local kids on the arts of grappling. Evenings, she gets in the ring with her brother, mum (Lena Headey) and dad (Nick Frost) to entertain amateur wrestling enthusiasts in Norwich, England.

Then the call comes inviting Saraya and Zak to audition for WWE at an upcoming London Smackdown event.

The set-up is there and, for any sports story, it is golden. Scrappy working class upbringing? Check! Sibling rivalry? Check! Opportunities for montage? Everywhere!

Better still is a madcap supporting cast you can’t help but love. Frost and Headey share a really lovely and incredibly goofy onscreen chemistry as the Mohawk-sporting ex-con patriarch and former homeless drug addict turned devoted mum. Merchant’s sharp direction and even sharper script avoids condescension or sentimentality.

The solid first act dovetails nicely into a less comedic journey for Saraya, the only sibling the WWE actually hires. Additional supporting players cannot live up to the charisma of Saraya’s family, but Dwayne Johnson plays himself and he has enough charisma for an entire cast.

Vince Vaughn, adding one more to a string of solid performances, plays the recruiter/drill sergeant/coach who helps Saraya find her individual strength for the journey to WWE Diva.

Pugh is the spark that makes the engines go, here. Though Saraya’s wigs are not always believable, her inner conflict and fighting spirit are.

While Fighting with My Family manages to sidestep or subvert a lot of genre clichés, it hardly breaks new ground. Instead, Merchant elevates the familiar with a more authentic feeling backstory and a winning cast.