No New Tricks Under the Big Top
Directed by Rob Walker
Written by David Logan
Starring John Hannah, Famke Janssen, Eddie Izzard
For a movie that
crept into town under cover of darkness - zero publicity, no advance screening,
confined to a single theatre among hundreds - Circus isn't half bad. In fact,
it's only about three-eighths bad, which puts it a sizable cut above a lot of
flicks that open with the brightest spotlight and the heaviest hype. In the annals
of relative deprivation, it beats the bejabbers out of Godzilla.
Apply a more rigorous yardstick, however, and here's the basic problem: This is
a British film trying to hop on the Quentin Tarantino bandwagon long after it
stalled. The homage starts smack in the opening frame, when an oily mob boss (Brian
Conley) chomps the ear off some terrified schnook who's late on his loan payments.
Given the setting in the English resort of Brighton, the scene unfolds with a
distinct Anglo accent, but there's no mistaking the derivation - think of it as
From there, the screenplay plunges us into all manner of noirish doings. At the
tale's scheming centre is the married duo of Lily and Leo Garfield - the very
names harken back to movies past. The wily hubby (John Hannah) is a compulsive
gambler cum devilishly clever fellow; his sexy wife (Famke Janssen) is the kind
of cucumber-cool babe who puts the fatale in femme. And the gal's got quite the
lip too. When that mob boss insists that the high-rolling Leo take over the running
of his primo casino, she snaps: "It's kind of like asking Hannibal
Lecter to fix lunch."
Anyway, cue the double and triple-crosses. Apparently, our ultra-smart gambler
is engaged in a major-league con. I say "apparently" with an embarrassed
blush: You need a brain of Leo's size to keep up with the plot's multiple twists;
otherwise, they defy comprehension. None of this bothers director Rob Walker,
who seems content to layer in more cinematic quotes (Orson Welles' The Lady from
Shanghai gets a sizeble mention) and then to confuse us even further by occasionally
stutter-stepping the time frame (yep, just like his hero Quentin).
By now, the thoroughly perplexed viewer is left to sit back and enjoy the scenery,
which takes the usual human form of an assortment of wacky thugs. Like the vicious
bookie (Eddie Izzard) with the charming habit of warbling pop tunes while he pounds
out his miscreant clients. Or how about the immense black guy ("Tiny"
Lister) whose car of choice is a teensy Morris Minor - shoehorning himself out
of the thing, he looks like a one-man circus act.
Which brings us back to the title, and the picture's chronic flaw: From the
centre ring to the many side shows, there's just way too much going on here. For
its collective part, the cast holds up remarkably well amid the frenzy. The British
talent pool has always been deep, and this is no exception. The Scotsman Hannah
is especially adroit, rising above the clutter to show off a heretofore unrevealed
side of his screen persona - the dapper dan, Cary Grant with a burr. Ultimately,
though, even the best performances sink under the sheer weight of
the script's imitative bulk. And maybe (showing uncommon sense) that's why Circus
eschewed the standard publicity route - why bother to hype a film that we've seen
a hundred times before?
MUDDLED PLOT TURNS HOMAGE TO FILM NOIR INTO A 3-RING `CIRCUS'
Special to the Chicago Tribune
September 18, 2000
Caper films have been a staple of the British cinema dating to the days of
such Ealing Studios classics as "The Lavender Hill Mob." It has something
to do, I think, with the working class
jargon, the colorful exteriors and a specific, if gaudy, taste in fashion.
But the difficulty in creating a good caper movie is that it must be complex
enough to keep us involved, filled with all sorts of clever asides and surprises,
but clear and well written enough to pay off when the climax rolls around.
"Circus" is certainly complex enough. In fact, it is downright convoluted.
It spins a tale with so many double-crosses and triple-crosses that by the end
we don't know who we can trust or what has transpired, and as you can probably
guess, we don't really care.
The story revolves around Leo and Lily Garfield (John Hannah and Famke Janssen),
a Nick and Nora Charles for the new millennium, a pair of stylish con-artists
who long to make the proverbial "last big score" and take a slow boat
to Cuba. But first, they must fleece the sadistic gang boss, Bruno, and his enforcer
cousin, Casper, while also dealing with a massive black hit man, a pop song-crooning
loan shark, a two-timing hooker, and a too-late-to-the-ball accountant who gets
a fashion makeover from Lily before getting up the nerve to cook the books.
And if that's not difficult enough (and in this movie, nothing ever is), Lily
is also being pursued from across the sea by the curiously monikered Elmo Somerset,
whom Lily double-crossed years earlier when she was still a Bonnie to his Clyde.
The movie is thick
with atmospheric English goodies, including Leo and Lily's gigantic loft apartment,
which looks like something Capt. Ahab might have designed. Also fun are many of
the shady locations, which tend to be lit by strategically placed neon lights.
But despite its visual vitality, as it pays obvious homage to film noir excesses,
"Circus" is simply too cute for its own good. When the final twist has
been turned and the last corpse has hit the ground, it is a film that could have
been twice as good if it had been half as complicated.
'Circus': Hysterics in a 3-Ring Something or Other
By LAWRENCE VAN GELDER | NY Times
If an Olympic competition for overplotted movie is ever held, "Circus"
seems a likely contender for the gold.
Even the most hardhearted judge is likely to award it a perfect score for self-awareness
well into the proceedings when a big goon called Moose (Tiny Lister) says, "I
don't understand what's going on."
Spectators have every right to agree, even when the plot is hastily explained
at some length toward the finish. Nevertheless, as in a circus of the three-ring
kind, this "Circus" offers plenty to watch: the bloody ear biting by
a man who isn't even Mike Tyson, the dog on the treadmill, the bare-breasted masseuse,
the homage to Orson Welles's "Lady From Shanghai," the garroting of
a woman (Amanda Donohoe) in a lovely manor house, the barbecuing (to onlookers'
cheers) of thick steaks in an England still sensitive about its outbreak of bovine
spongiform encephalitis and the seedy seaside charm of Brighton.
And all these details are subsidiary to the main event, based on a screenplay
by David Logan and directed by Rob Walker, in which gangsters and grifters and
various subspecies of their ilk are double- and triple-crossing one another from
start to finish.
The plot seems to have something to do with Bruno (Brian Conley), a big-time
British lowlife whose embezzling
accountant (the one who loses an ear before dying) has gotten him in tax troubles
that prompt him to conceive a swindle involving the sale of his shipping company
and the transfer of millions of dollars to a safe haven in the Cayman Islands.
This scheme enmeshes the film's most intelligent and appealing character, Leo
(John Hannah, the Scottish actor who was so good as the bereaved gay lover in
"Four Weddings and a Funeral"). Leo and his wife, Lily (the appealing
Famke Jannsen), a gangster's moll with a history of duplicity, are planning to
"do the whole Ernest Hemingway- type thing" in Cuba just as soon as
Leo pulls off one last job, a murder for hire.
But is Lily what she seems? After all, practically nobody else in "Circus"
is. Nearly everybody seems to be betraying everybody else. Mr. Hannah and Miss
Janssen are fun to watch in a gallery of colorful characters; just don't expect
much sense from all the clowns in this "Circus."
Brighton rocks | Guardian UK review
Hush hush reports on Eddie Izzard's turn as a sadistic bookmaker, and Lock, Stock
and two sprouting marrows - Britain's first gardening movie
Tuesday June 22, 1999
Brighton's crumbling West Pier may not be up to much these days, but as an atmospheric
backdrop, it succeeds effortlessly. Circus, an Anglo-American "hip crime thriller" starring
and John Hannah,
has just finished filming in the vicinity, which, it transpires, is also the stamping-ground
of first-time screenwriter David Logan.
Co-financed by Columbia Pictures and the Fim Development Corporation, the £3
million movie is quite a coup for 30-year-old ex-video-store-attendant, Logan.
If his break into the film world sounds familiar, Hush Hush was intrigued to hear
that his original screenplay "has a touch of Tarantino about it".
It's certainly eclectically cast: from Dutch Bond babe, to TV trouper Brian Conley
(making his film debut, we were grandly told), director Rob Walker's
team of "completely dodgy" wheelers and dealers is a singular mixed
The wizard Izzard has turned in a super-serious role as a sadistic bookmaker,
harrassing Hannah's debt-ridden gambler. Not a poker man himself, Hannah had to
learn the dirtiest tricks of the pack from a hired magician. You'll be able to
see the Scotsman's hand next spring, when Circus comes to town.
Fears for a clown
(www.lineone.net | Daily Express)
FILM: He's a great comedian, but Eddie Izzard's latest foray into the movies,
in Circus, doesn't do him justice, says Edward Docx
Izzard grew up in Eastbourne and is, as he says, "quite at home with the
shabby Edwardian splendour of the south coast." He does not, however, seem
quite so at ease playing Tony Cabrara, the gangster in the new Brit-Grit movie,
Circus, set in Brighton and released this week.
"Actually I wanted the lead part," Izzard says, referring to the
character of Leo Garfield (played by John Hannah). "I saw the script and
loved it. But then I was offered the role of this hoodlum and I thought - OK,
I can do this."
Thus far the critics have all slated the film. And, undeniably, Circus as a
whole is somehow considerably weaker than the sum of its many well-intentioned
parts. In particular (it has to be said), Izzard himself is far from convincing:
his portrayal of "a real professional who would buy you a friendly drink
in the evening and then call at your house in the middle of the night and cut
your ear off because you owed him money and tell you that he was sorry but that
business is business" is neither sufficiently comic nor sufficiently menacing
but falls instead between two stools.
When I speak to Eddie Izzard he is in Melbourne, Australia, a couple of shows
into the Antipodean leg of his stand-up tour. As he is (in my view) by far the
best comic of his generation, I ask him why he is continually distracting himself
with trying to be an actor.
"As soon as I had finished playing Lenny Bruce," he says, referring
to his recent and successful West End portrayal of the great American stand-up
genius, "the Circus script came up which was, I thought, very
fortuitous. I saw Lenny as a cross-over role - a chance to do something on
the stage which was appropriate but serious and demanding but which would also
help people begin to think about me in a new light. Then there was this gangster
character and, you know, it was different..." Essentially, Izzard has always
wanted to be an actor. Indeed, it is rumoured that one of the reasons why he so
studiously shunned television for so long was that he was worried that his small
screen appearances would prevent him being taken seriously by the big screen casting
Meanwhile, the Australian shows have been going well, although I cannot help
but wonder how his very English and idiosyncratic sense of humour goes down in
the land of Crocodile Dundee. "There's really not all that much difference
between audiences because my material is deliberately nonspecific. I'm not going
to introduce a load of wallaby and kangaroo gags just because I'm in Australia.
It doesn't work like that. It's a series of monologues and sketches which are
as near as they can be to universal. In any case, my audience tend to be - broadly
speaking - an 'alternative' crowd who know a little of what I do, if only by word
of mouth, so they don't come in expecting it to be a series of topical one-liners."
Fair enough. But how much of his material is occasioned by where he is?
How much is changed on the night, ad-libbed?
"Still only about 10 to 15 per cent," he says, "depending on
how I am feeling. But really it is more likely to be stuff about elephant ski-schools
than satirical exegesis on the Commonwealth. The same in the States. Which is
not to say that the show isn't always evolving. You get new ideas in each place
and the audience doesn't always react in the same way. " It's very hard to
characterise Izzard's humour. He doesn't accept any of the labels that I try -
scatological, absurdist, subversive, satirical - although it is all of these.
Instead he likens himself to "a non-stop human search-engine surfing all
available channels all the time." And his modesty isn't all false. "I
explore as many disparate ideas as I can," he says, "from the human
condition to complete c**p and all the way back again. It's just me really. Me
and what comes into my head."
The principal pillars of his public persona are all still in place. First of
all, he still likes to cross dress - "I am a male lesbian". Second,
he remains fervently pro-Blair, pro-European: "National characteristics are
really not as strong as people think. As a comic, going round the world, you find
people laughing at the same things wherever you are." (Izzard, famously,
gloriously, got away with doing his show in French in Paris and to widespread
acclaim.) And third, he is still very private about his private life: "Yes
I am still with my girlfriend, thank you."
Probably his greatest concern (at 38) is to take enough time out to develop
a whole new show that is significantly different to the ones that have gone before.
"There is a Woody Allen trap which you have to beware of," he says.
"It's all very good but really you wonder, have we been here before?"
Hopefully, as far as Brit-Grit movies go, he will never go there again.
The writer of "Circus", David Logan, has such an ability to
create convolutions that some day he may give us a great gangster picture. This
is not it. His screenplay features too many twists and turns, from too many unexpected
angles, for too damn long, and after a while we just groan at every new 'surprise'.
It's suspenseful in a story when anything can happen. It's kind of ridiculous
when everything does.
"Circus" is a British movie starring John Hannah as a hit
man who is asked by an old crime-boss friend (Brian Conley) to run his Brighton
casino. Before Hannah can take him up on the offer, though, he must take care
of one piece of unfinished business -- the assassination of a rich man's wife
We see the killing carried out. Then it transpires there is much more
to the story. At first we think Hannah's client is entrapping him, but there's
actually a whole pageant of double-crossing, blackmailing, double-dealing and
scamming going on behind the scenes. It's far too complicated to go into here.
When my companion leaned over and said "I've lost the plot!", it wasn't
a confession of madness.
Actually, it's simple in one sense -- everyone's screwing over everyone
else. That lets Logan turn out twist after twist, but we soon realize what he's
doing, and so none of his tricks have the ability to shock us. The plot has low
credibility anyway, because most of the characters' secret schemes are dependent
on coincidence, guesswork and chance.
A movie like this needs more than complicated puzzles to keep us involved.
It requires characters who inspire our fascination. Just look at the colorful
ensemble in "The Usual Suspects". The people in "Circus" are
distinctive, all right -- they include a gigantic bodyguard who drives a Mini;
a fidgety, screw-loose accountant with eccentric dress sense; a debt collector
who sings all his conversations in the rhythm of old pop songs; and a bank robber
who dresses in cowboy clothing and experiences coitus interruptus with a hotel
receptionist who'll "suck you off for twenty quid". But this troupe
belongs in a comedy sketch show, not a thriller that expects to hold our attention.
And Hannah, such a soft-spoken everyman, is far too bland for the lead role.
What can I say? At least the film tries hard, is sincere, and has ambition.
It's better than the ads make it out to be, and if you really can't fight the
urge to see a gangster film in the cinema this season, "Circus" is a
much better bet than "Love, Honour and Obey".
(Rated on a 4-star scale)
By Ian Waldron-Mantgani (http://www.ukcritic.com/)
Click here for the Daily
Express article & interview
Irish Times - Hugh Linehan
It does no favours to director Rob Walker, but it's impossible to avoid comparing
Jarmusch's intelligently comic crime thriller with Walker's shallow, silly, deeply
unimaginative foray into similar territory. British cinema seems to be obsessed
at the moment with trying to replicate whatever surprise hit has most recently
spurred that weary battle-cry of another "British film renaissance".
Having had to endure two years of pale Full Monty imitations, it seems we're now
fated to be swamped by Johnny-come-latelies jumping on the Lock, Stock and Two
Smoking Barrels bandwagon.
Like the execrable Love, Honour and Obey, Circus is based on the simple notion
that English gangsters are inherently funny, so there's not much need to write
a decent plot around them. How wrong can you get? These characters, cardboard
cut-outs to a man (and occasional woman), need all the help they can get. Unfortunately
what they do get is a deeply implausible plot which the film's writers probably
thought was devilishly cunning, but which lacks even one real surprise.
Along the way, John Hannah, as the supposedly suave conman hero, makes Pierce
Brosnan look like a method actor. Famke Janssen, as Hannah's wife, is there for
strictly decorative purposes, while a host of familiar Brit TV faces mouth their
not-very-funny lines without much conviction (Eddie Izzard, in particular, should
really have a word with his agent about all these third-baddie-from-the-left roles
he's getting). Shot in photogenic Brighton with all the pzazz and depth of a car
advertisement, this is a cynical, depressing little film.
This is London.com
written by Eddie Izzard for thisislondon.com
I've always been a huge film nut, and now I'm crowbarring my way into movies.
I'm not there yet but I'll keep relentlessly banging on until I am. Stand-up is
pretty arduous - there's a lot of travelling involved - and I've found I do less
of it the more I get into films.
When I'm on screen I try and be as interesting as possible, so that someone
might say, "You did quite well in that small role, we'll give you nine lines
in this next film." It's all about the number of lines you have.
This new film, Circus, is like Pulp Fiction crossed with The Long Good Friday.
I used to say it was Pulp Fiction crossed with Zulu, but that wasn't true. It's
a great script by Dave Logan. I play a character called Troy who is pursuing a
conman played by John Hannah for some money he's owed. Originally I wanted John
Hannah's part, but John had that, so Troy seemed stupid enough, and psychotic
enough, for me to do.
I'm going through the psychotic-villain phase in my career. You know that British
thing, about going to Hollywood and playing a villain? I like that, because they're
fun roles. And also it's easier to come in on the wave of playing either a butler
or a villain. I'm drawn to the villainous side, because there are real parallels
When you go on stage, it's a bit of a lion's den, particularly if someone gets
up and heckles you. That's the verbal equivalent of a duel - if they shout at
you, you shout back and destroy them. You have to save face. I think there's a
real link between the psychotic nature of comedy, those extreme twists you make
in comedy, and some of these psychotic characters that I'm being asked to play.
This is London.com
by Alexander Walker
This thuggish mess, along with recent piles of excrement like Love, Honour and
Obey, makes it seem as if a sizeable section of British Equity has now capitulated
to East End gangsterdom. Or is lust for the box office earned by immeasurably
better films like Get Carter or The Long Good Friday (the latter re-released this
week) too hard to resist? Certainly too hard to improve on.
John Hannah stars as a South Coast gambler in hock to a rather nasty psychopath
(Eddie Izzard) who chews people's ears off and sails toy boats. To pay his debt
and preserve his attributes, he accepts a little contract job on the side, strangles
what he thinks is his client's wife, then discovers she was the girlfriend of
a crazy black Goliath named Moose. That makes following the plot sound simple.
It's anything but.
Director Rob Walker's farrago of brutality is not only post-Tarantino imitative,
but almost totally impenetrable. Every other scene in David Logan's derivative
script goes for some "smart" twist - like the hoodlums meeting on a
nudist beach. (The sight of Izzard with his kit off is the one true fright in
the film.) Its designer violence is a rip-off of movies - and novels like The
Big Sleep - that had (sometimes) better motives than simply pandering to pornographic
shock values that very quickly become numbingly repetitious. It's set in the resort
that Graham Greene made famous in print, and the Boulting Brothers on film, as
Brighton Rock. The kindest name for this update is Brighton Schlock.
May 4-12, 2000 UK
The makers of this British thriller imaging its the Usual Suspects
come to Brighton. In their dreams. The labyrinthine plot involves hitman Hannah,
his scheming wife Janssen, nerdy mobster accountant Stormare and camp, nasty bookie
Whats right with it?
If youve had your fill of intricately plotted American indie thriller
featuring eccentric characters, black humour and slapstick violence, you might
find it refreshing that this one injects some British seaside charm into the formula.
Whats wrong with it?
The occasionally successful stabs at comedy undermine your investment in the
endless machinations of the plot. And the numerous twists, though diverting, end
up not making sense.
A modest 96 minutes.
Wait for the video. (2 OUT OF 4 STARS)
NME.COM (new music express)
Review by Steven Wells
Uh, yeah, OK, the 'plot' bit.- Heck! This film has more twists than a bunch
of epileptic snakes attending a Chubby Checker revival party in a pretzel factory.
Where- do you start?
OK, there's this Scots conman (Hannah) living in Brighton who decides
to do a bit of assassination on the side. But the bloke who hires him to off his
missus decides to blackmail him - because it wasn't his wife! No, it was the prostitute
girlfriend of this humungous enforcer who works for the baddie (Conley).
Except that it turns out that the fake husband is actually the accountant for
the baddie. And he's in cahoots with the Scots conman. Or his girlfriend (Janssen).
Or both. Or neither.
Actually, everything I've just told you isn't true. I think. I'm still a bit
confused. And then there's Eddie Izzard as an utterly convincing psycho
bookmaker who keeps trying to cut Hannah's nads off and the baddie's got
an over-ambitious brother who's pulling the strings in the background. Or maybe
If you like twists, you'll love Circus. And, for once, we get a Brit
gangsta movie which, unlike Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and the
execrable Love, Honour & Obey, doesn't get all misty-eyed abart the
scum-filth Cockernee vermin bastards. A good brain-buster with an ever-so-slightly
dodgy ending. I think. 6/10
BBC MOVIE ONLINE
Review by Michael Thomson
Opening Date: 5th May
Running Time: 95 mins
If a bunch of smart, spotty schoolboys, who by definition had yet to learn about
Real Life, had devised Circus during their mid-morning break, you'd at least applaud
them for their imagination. As it is, Circus has been thought up (not that thinking
seems to be their chief concern) by writer David Logan and director Rob Walker
who, as far as we know, have indeed left school.
So keen are they to tap into the hipness, stylishness, edgy comedy and unnerving
violence of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
that they have apparently forgotten that Circus is meant to be set in the real
world. The world, in fact, is Brighton, Logan's home town, where Leo (John
Hannah) is an egotistical con-man, Lily (Famke Janssen) is his ice-cold wife,
Troy (Eddie Izzard) is a sadistic bookie and Bruno (Brian Conley) is the grinning,
thuggish gang boss who lords it over all.
Characters who start double-crossing each other end up triple- and quadruple-crossing
everyone else to the point of maximum confusion, which is where the audience comes
in. Why is he/she doing that to him/her? Gosh - where did he spring from?
You can almost hear Logan/Walker thinking 'Wow, this would be fun, let's try
it', without any regard for the coherence or common sense of the whole piece.
Brian Conley can be taken as a metaphor for the entire film: he first appears
as the cruel torturer of his accountant (Christopher Biggins) - a serious, nasty,
tense moment - before quickly spiralling off into absurdity as he becomes a cockney
caricature. A smattering of jolly moments and the very handsome gloss can't
shore up this shaky, and slackly directed, enterprise.
BBC RADIO1 NEWS
Eddie Izzard's new film Circus had its premiere on Tuesday night
in Shaftesbury Avenue in London. It's a gangster flick set in Brighton, which
claims to be a violent, darkly humorous tale that twists like an epileptic
boa constrictor riding a helter skelter. Basically, a conman, played by
John Hannah, is hired to murder a businessman's wife. Eddie Izzard plays Troy,
a singing psychopath. But don't be put off, because he co-stars with Brian Conley
and Christopher Biggins. Eddie thinks its all a bit confusing: "It
does seem to be an interesting amalgamation of all the gangster films Ive
seen. And an immense amount of lying going on. It's just up to here with lies
by the end. Audiences will walk out and lie their heads off for the rest of the
Eddie says Circus is "The Long Good Friday crossed
with Brighton Rock. Thats my thing. Or Gone With The Wind
crossed with Zulu. But I dont think that one really gives the
signals that were trying to go for. Anything crossed with Zulu,
actually. In America they say meets so this would be Brighton
Rock meets Zulu but with less people in loin cloths."
review by Robin Askew
And the winner of the award for this week's really poor, post-'Lock, Stock'
wannabe hip Brit crime thriller is... 'Circus'!
Down in glamorous, er, Brighton, smalltime con artist and gambler Leo Garfield
(John Hannah) is stitched up during a contract killing. Meanwhile, his scheming
American wife Lily (Famke Janssen) is about to find her past catching up with
her in the threatening form of Elmo (Fred Ward).
These aren't the only problems the couple face. A loan shark called Troy (Eddie
Izzard) is demanding immediate repayment of Leo's gambling debts. And low-watt
local crime boss Bruno (Brian Conley) is also up to no good, while his geeky new
accountant Julius (Peter Stormare) is undergoing something of a dramatic makeover.
What's going on, who's stitching up whom, and, quite frankly, who cares?
Somewhere in the needlessly labyrinthine plotting, you find you simply can't
be bothered with all this any more. Part of the problem lies in the fact that
Messrs Hannah, Conley and Izzard are three of the least menacing gangsters ever
thrown together on the big screen.
The gap between romantic comedy and crime thriller is too wide for Hannah to
cross convincingly, and even behind shades and stubble Izzard is still the familiar
It doesn't help that scriptwriter David Logan's approach to characterisation
is to give each of them a pointless tic: Izzard sings pop songs while beating
people, Hannah tosses coins to decide on his next move - like an English seaside
Diceman - and so on.
To cap it all, there's even a stultifyingly unexciting chase through the streets
of Brighton, which only serves to remind you that the last thriller to be set
here was, oh dear, Michael Winner's 'Dirty Weekend'.
Issue 132 June 2000
Another Brit-set gangster comedy bites the dust.
Circus opens with a scene of loveable variety entertainer Brian Conley torturing
loveable variety entertainer Christopher Biggins. Only Conley is in fact kingpin
Brighton crime boss Bruno Maitland and snivelling Biggins is his no good accountant.
Find that funny or convincing, then Circus is your sort of film. Find it
crass and embarrassing, well then you're in for a long hour and a half of viewing
How you feel about those first few minutes will colour your attitude towards
the whole film. This is a movie, after all, that features various comics in several
key roles. Apart from Biggins and Conley (to be fair, convincingly vicious), there's
Izzard's Shylock figure (to be fair, not convincingly vicious) with Game On's
Neil Stuke playing his sidekick. But before the whole thing gets overladen with
British comics turned actors, rising stars Hannah (about to pick up his first
£1 million pay cheque for The Mummy 2) and Janssen (about to go stratospheric
in this summer's sci-fi comicbook actioner X-Men) turn up as the leads.
Therein lies another problem. The chemistry between the pair is supposed to
be scorching, so much so that the audience has to believe they will do anything
for each other. Not only is that lacking, it's hard to imagine that the two would
spend time talking to each other, let alone plotting the biggest scam of all time.
Those assumptions aside, Circus' other selling point seems to be its
multiple twist-packed plot. However, the effectiveness of this depends on how
many similar films you've seen. Go in blind and it could just win you over. Screenwriter
David Logan has used his home town of Brighton in East Sussex as an effective
setting and given that this script sparked a bidding war in the US, it might just
be that the big screen realisation of the film has sold him short. Or maybe it's
just a matter of a taste.
Roll up, roll up...
the British gangster-flick is back in town
Logan and Quentin Tarantino may share video-shop roots. But Circus is no Pulp
It's been a good year for David Logan. Sitting in the
lounge of his spacious top-floor flat in a prestigious crescent in Hove, with
a TV the size of a car, and enough DVDs to open a small shop, it's easy to detect
an air of success.
Since he gave one of his video-shop customers a copy
of his screenplay, Circus, to read in 1996, Logan has been suffering the
ignominy of the Hollywood dream (including a nightmare shoot and the breakdown
of his friendship with director Rob Walker). Not that he really minds. He now
commands six-figure sums, has future projects set up with John Woo (Face/Off)
and Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls), and because of his humble video-shop
roots and gangster storylines, is being touted as the new Tarantino. Just like
one of his scripts, he underpins the obviousness of the comparison by saying:
"Tarantino's just the old Dave Logan," adding wryly, "No-one's
ever found that very funny."
It becomes clear that Logan loathes obviousness. "I'm
sick of political correctness. Women, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals will
always get a raw deal in my movies." When I first met him a few years ago,
this quiet, unassuming 31-year-old didn't strike me as a misogynist homophobic
racist, and in fact he isn't, and never could be.
Anyone that admits they love strong women(and confesses
they didn't have the guts to speak to Julianne Moore at a recent party), who is
half-Pakistani, and happy to live in very gay Brighton, hasn't a hope of making
such anti-PC attitudes convincing. You sense it's just Logan giving Hollywood
what it wants to hear.
On the surface, Circus is a British spin on
the tongue-in-cheek, "Oops, I accidentally shot his head off" gangster
film, with the added ingredients of pastiche from movies like Get Carter
and The Italian Job. Logan describes hero Leo, played by John Hannah, as
"me well, the person I'd like to be", who is, interestingly,
a gambler, a bit of a smoothie, and who was originally, he says, based on Kirk
Douglas's character in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole. "Douglas played
a real shit. A very fanciable shit."
Leo's love interest is his wife, Lily, played by Famke
Jansen. Despite being married, their relationship is, refreshingly, full of passion
and intrigue. "I like the idea of a husband and wife that are still in love.
I hate coincidence in films. I hate couples that get together after 10 minutes
and are doing it on the kitchen table before they've worked out who the other
Ironically, a stream of coincidences are what helped
David Logan get his breakthrough with Sony Pictures. Choosing to work in his local
video shop to support his screenwriting aspirations was, he says, the best thing
he could have done. "I chatted to customers about my writing. One of the
regulars turned out to be the director, John Hay. I gave him a dodgy thriller
to read, about a kidnapper in Ireland and a serial killer in New Orleans, hoping
he might like it. He came back, criticised it to the hilt, in the politest way
possible, and became a bit of a mentor."
After collaborating on a script with a friend,Logan
set about doing his own screenplay. Six months and two drafts later, he presented
Hay with Circus. This time, there were no reservations, and Logan found
himself an agent in London, who fixed him up with Sony Pictures.
Interestingly, the film I saw is not the screenplay
I hear Logan describing. His is a script full of subtlety, whereas Circus
on celluloid is a more heavy-handed affair, with, uncharacteristically for Logan,
a happy ending, which, he tells me quickly, was a "studio choice". Whether
it will match the success of recent Brit gangster flicks like Lock, Stock,
and Two Smoking Barrels, remains to be seen.
CHEEKY MONKEY (fom the Sun,
HERE'S transvestite funnyman Eddie Izzard as you thought you'd
never see him ... looking well 'ard.
Eddie plays a tough gangster in new movie Circus. His character
Troy spends most of the film pursuing Sliding Doors star John Hannah, a conman
who owes him money.
But Troy is no ordinary gangster - he sings and even strips.
A film insider said: "Troy quotes lines from songs as he's knifing people.
Eddie comes across as very menacing."
NEWS & RUMORS:
(08.01.00) According to Upcomingmovies.com, Circus won't be released in 2000
as expected but maybe in 2001.
(04.20.00 | thanks Sue) There's an interview in "Woman" magazine
(UK mag) with John Hannah...Eddie's co-star in "Circus"...and it said
that the release date for the UK is May 5th. No word on US release...
(04.17.00) From the John Hannah Appreciation Site:
According to Empire Magazine, it's due out in the UK in summer or autumn of 2000.
Still no news on the US release date.
(February 23, 2000...thanks Mimi) from EMPIRE magazine (UK edition
- March 2000).
Starring Famke Janssen
Director Rob Walker
ETA (Britain) Summer/Autumn
The directorial debut of British helmer Walker, Circus is a home-grown thriller
with a continental cast although it's the Scottish Hannah that leads proceedings.
He stars as Leo Garfield, a petty criminal who, together with wife Janssen, cooks
up a potentially money spinning scam, although inevitably the road to pots of
cash and untold wealth is
fraught with twists, turns and all manner of dangerous situations. With co-stars
Donohoe, Izzard and Fargo star Stormare popping up to further complicate matters,
it's yet another addition to the ever-swelling canon of stylish British thrillers,
although this one already comes with an endorsement from its star; Hannah has
revealed that Leo Garfield is one of the best characters he has played.
(February 13, 2000) Upcoming Movies.com has "Circus" listed but
unfortunately, they have no news about any release dates.
(April 29, 1999) Famke Janssen ("The Faculty," "GoldenEye")
will star opposite John Hannah in Columbia Pictures' "Circus" for director
Rob Walker. Eddie Izzard, Peter Stormare and Tiny Lister are also set for roles
in the action thriller, which is a working title for the film. The project began
shooting this week at Shepperton Studios and on location in Brighton, England.
Written by David Logan, "Circus" centers on con man Leo Garfield (Hannah)
and his glamorous wife Lily (Janssen), who have masterminded an audacious scam,
according to THR.