Twist just happens to be a "twist" on the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist. I guess you could say it's a twisted twist, because this movie focuses on a group of young "orphaned" gay hustlers who made their way to the street after escaping a variety of abusive home lives.
I'll start off by saying I am not a fan of dark, depressing drug movies. I don't watch them because they all tell pretty much the same tragic story. Yet, for some reason, I found myself drawn in by Twist, due mostly to the sad but real performances of the actors. The Dickens link was blatantly obvious, but it became incidental to me, and I didn't focus on watching with the intent to compare.
What you should not expect from Twist is a lot of exploitative sex between older men and young teenaged boys. That is not the focus of this film, and no one ever gets naked. So if that's your thing, you'll have to get your twist on somewhere else. This film is a bleak look at what can befall a young teenaged man when his family rejects him and throws him out on the street instead of accepting that he dreams of living in a nice home, raising 2.5 dogs and a cat with the boy next door.
We're initially introduced to Dodge (Nick Stahl) on the cold, mean streets of Toronto. We never see a bright side to Toronto in this film, it's very contained to gloom and doom. Before long, Dodge meets quiet, shy, blond runaway orphan Oliver (Joshua Close) in the local diner, and brings him "home" to the abandoned school where all the young teenaged men stay, overseen by Fagin (Gary Farmer), whose office is in the school's old Headmaster office (ah…that works on so many levels). Soon, Oliver is out on the street too, as Dodge shows him exactly how to be a prostitute. Oliver is repulsed by the job, but at the same time, is in love with Dodge, who pushes away his advances. Dodge is also constantly dodging a mysterious stalker in a black car, while sinking himself deeper and deeper into a heroine addiction. The drug supply comes from Nancy (Michèle-Barbara Pelletier), the waitress at the diner who is also the abused girlfriend of Bill. Bill is the head of the prostitution/drug racket, who is only heard about but never seen in the film—all the dealings with him are done over the phone.
While Oliver struggles to get closer to the resistant Dodge, he catches the eye of a John referred to by the others as "The Senator," a wealthy man who pays Oliver just to talk. Nancy suggests a risky move involving The Senator to get Oliver out of this business before he gets too deep into it, and Dodge soon becomes jealous of the fact that The Senator has taken a fancy to Oliver. Two of the most heartbreaking moments of the movie come when Dodge is forced to face the unclouded truth about what he does for a living, and when Oliver takes a leap of faith to get himself out of the hole he's dug himself.
Most likely, this film is going to be immediately compared to My Own Private Idaho, but for me, the difference is that Idaho felt like a movie, this almost feels like a documentary. The performances go beyond acting—it feels like real people being filmed as they face life's hardships. While this results in some rather moody moments of silence, it captures the unspoken turmoil of each character perfectly. The two young leads are wonderful, and I particularly thought Gary Farmer stood out as Fagin, his demeanor turning from the hardened whore warden keeping his boys in line to an underlying compassionate father figure within a blink of an eye.
You're not going to be left with a happy ending or even a hopeful outlook, but this film will definitely get you wondering what really goes on in the seediest areas of big cities, and facing the fact that there really are young prostitutes out there enduring unimaginable situations.
The DVD case describes this film as being a "16x9 letterbox edition." From what I could see, the film appears to be in anamorphic widescreen, aspect ratio 1:85:1. There's a hint of grain and grit, slight specks and dust, and soft edges. The colors are bland and faces look deathly pale, but I'm thinking this was intentional to capture the dreary tone of the film, because over all, the presentation was quite cinematic.
This is straightforward Dolby 2.0 stereo. The sound is crystal clear, the left/right separation is excellent, and there's nice bass response.
Included here are just a few bonus features:
TWIST TRAILER—an excellent quality, letterbox presentation of the trailer for the film.
OTHER STRAND RELEASES—4 trailers for other gay themed films released by Strand.
COMMENTARY—young director/writer Jacob Tierney and lead actor Nick Stahl give a warm, informative discussion on the film. They point out the many extras who were actually people they knew, discuss the various setups of locations and sets, and offer interesting on-set pieces of trivia. They also laugh, joke, and enjoy each other's company. This is worth a listen.
Twist is considered a gay hustler take on the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist, and will most likely be compared to the film My Own Privte Idaho. However, I found this film, which never exploits with gratuitous sex, to be more like a stunningly sad documentary on the gay hustler culture, with standout performances by the entire cast. It could remind those who use "we must protect our children" as an anti-gay war cry that we need to protect ALL our children, including our gay children. And this DVD presentation, though not overflowing with extras, offers the film with good quality sound and picture, and contains an absorbing documentary by the writer/director and the lead actor.