The Cut Out
Note this post is rather long. I apologize.
Whether you like Roman Polanski as a person or not, he does have a tendency to make excellent films and this film is no exception.
Cinematically the film is beautiful. We all watched Wright’s version of Pride and Prejudice and noticed how visually appealing the film was. Polanski seemingly similar techniques, however Polanski adjusts the lighting, color, and filters to fit the ‘mood’ at varying times in the film. The scenes with the workhouse are all dull and grey, yet there is something more to it than that. It’s artfully drab, mostly due to the careful selection in the shades of grey being used in scenery and costumes. The lighting also complements how drab things are in the workhouse by throwing out realism to a degree and upping the saturation so that it the lighting is harsher than need be.
The rest of the film however focuses on creating vivid contrast in the lighting and colors. The countryside is beautifully light, similar to Wright, as well as London itself. Even when in dark places, the lighting is realistic in keeping the room poorly light, but casts an extremely strong golden glow that brings out the colors in the costumes and set.
The score is nice, partly because it’s simple. It consists primarily of strings playing lightly in the backgrounds playing off the mood of the film constantly.
The acting by Kingsley as Fagin and Mark Strong as Crackitt is simply amazing. While Strong has few scenes, he steals everyone and Kinglsey is just epic. Their costumes were also done rather well as they help make both actors and characters stand out, something that the costumes/casting does throughout the film. Key characters stick out while others have a tendency to blend in more.
There is plenty to go on about with the film cinematically, but I’ll move on to the larger picture. In my opinion the film itself is good. Comparing to Oliver Twist, not necessarily so. It really feels like the writers read SparkNotes or Cliff Notes and used that as a guide for the script. Content wise the major spots are hit on, but there are plenty of things cut out, such as Oliver’s family history, which I incidentally believe was a good thing to cut out mainly because of time and it would detract to much if crunched in and be to confusing if left in at length.
One difference that I wonder about is Fagin. Fagin in this film can garner more sympathy, mainly from a surface look at him. Fagin is still the same Fagin. He is controlling and manipulative, but it isn’t quite so glaringly obvious, partly because of cuts, but more because it’s not emphasized. Polanski relies heavily in very short close ups of Kingsley that perfectly capture Fagin from he book. Kingsley gives wonderfully real quick looks that capture the whirring gears in Fagin’s head. I feel that since Fagin is physically less menacing it detracts from making him glaringly evil. Fagin is not blatantly Jewish in this film. I think there might’ve been one instance where Sykes calls him a Jew, but otherwise it’s removed. Personally I feel that it has quite a bit to do with Polanski personally. His heritage is Jewish. He identifies his heritage in his films, the most notable one to a wide audience is the Pianist. I think on a personal level Polanski would want that removed. There’s also the fact that most people today are more likely to notice hints of anti-Semitism and take offense to it. Regardless the removal of Fagin being Jewish really doesn’t take anything away form the story itself.
The film failed to capture the over arching themes in a blatant way. I think is some respects the film can be looked at as a comedy and almost mocks the harsh realism from the novel. Personally I felt that the film does the opposite. I feel like the social commentary of Dicken’s is still in the film, but on different levels.
Polanski uses traditional comedic traits to play on this. There are scenes that in the novel and technically in the film should be depressing and dark, yet Polanski brightens the scene with lighting and the score, but he does it to an extent that make it absurd. It’s clearly not fun walking miles and miles without proper clothing, footwear or food, yet the film at face value makes Oliver’s journey to London something exciting and fun, yet it clearly isn’t. Polanski is aware this isn’t a fun journey and instead of just showing it as depressing he does the opposite and goes just shy of being over the top in making it seem fun. It’s a classic move in making something so absurd that the true meaning of what is going on becomes clear.
In going with making things absurd, Polanski makes the key key characters something akin to a filmic caricature. Crackit is one of the great examples of this. He stands out visually. I mean come on the frizzy red hair that sticks out. Mark Strong plays him over the top as well. He bounces about in the film. The beadle and other rulers of the workhouse are all overtly fat and it’s exaggerated. Mrs. Sowerberry is glaringly stern. The casting alone does this and the costuming only strengthens it. Polanski takes the cut out characters from Dicken’s novel and adds them to the film in a way which really hits on how he structures the entire film. It’s a cut out.