Time Out says
The director of such cine-paranoia classics as Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby tackling that literary orphan-made-good warhorse? What the Dickens? It seems like an odd match, unless you take into account the filmmaker's own tragic childhood experiences (he flitted between foster families and lived on the streets when his parents were sent to a concentration camp); you don't need to be a scholar to see parallels between Polanski's past and the eponymous hero's poverty-stricken plight.
Like David Lean's noteworthy 1948 adaptation, this latest take on the canonized novel emphasizes the dangerousness and dinginess of street life. There's still a sense of warm camaraderie when Oliver (Clark) takes up with the band of underage brigands led by kindly old Fagin (Kingsley, who virtually de-Semitizes Dickens's notorious caricature of hyper-Jewishness), but these lost boys live under polluted, gray skies. Crowds exist simply to persecute; violence at the hands of cops, bystanders or the sociopathic Bill Sykes (Foreman) lies around ever corner. Even the lads' father figure eventually goes mad.
With so much richness in the Victorian detail on display and Polanski's personal investment in Oliver's story, it's a pity the film feels so anemic. A certain slackness pervades over the proceedings, which an amping-up of the source material's dour tone can't counteract; the story's darkness takes center stage, but drained of dramatic momentum, the movie can't help but leave you wishing for more.—David Fear