Dir. Francis Lawrence. USA. 2011.

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Sara Gruen’s pseudo-romance novel about a depression era(1930’s) travelling circus and it’s many ‘star’ attractions  gets the big movie treatment by Fox studios in this semi-serious melodramatic outpouring adapted by Richard LaGravenese and directed by Francis Lawrence.

In Gruen’s novel Rosie (the elephant) is luminous while in the film she is merely an unconvincing cut-out with a shortened role and fairly little to do. Jacob  Jankowski (Robert Pattinson)’s entry into the Benzini Bros circus is also quite unconvincing. His having dropped out of veterinary college following his parents sudden and unexpected death, his subsequent entry into the boxcar of the travelling circus train and acceptance by the diabolical August (Christoph Waltz), into the fold, reeks of manipulation..Especially when August is shown to be eagerly disposing off those whose usefulness has come to an end. We don’t really get the desperation that should have been obvious on Jacob’s countenance either. Jacob is after all supposed to be a dewy fresh college boy whose experience of a sudden tragedy makes his life come unhinged  but Pattinson fails to evoke that image. His visage is remarkably lacking in varied expressiveness. Moreso , we see a repeat of his turn in “twilight’ which is light years away from what he should have been essaying. Jacob is shown as someone who manages to take into his stride drunks and weirdos like Camel (Jim Norton) and Kinko (Mark Povinelli) and the graded cast system that exists. Jacob’s fatal attraction to Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the star attraction of the circus who also happens to be August’s abused wife - is also not convincing. There’s a distinct lack of chemistry between the two clandestine lovers and the tension that should have accompanied such a dramatic twist is also not  forthcoming.

The narrative is pretty lukewarm with the characters failing to attract empathy or involvement from the audience. The drama fails to rouse and the acting save for Christoph Waltz’s August is pretty much timid. So don’t expect too much from this whimsical un-engaging tale!

Rating:   *  * 

Johnson Thomas

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