CIRCUS. Columbia, 2000. John Hannah, Famke Janssen, Brian Conley, Peter Stormare, Fred Ward, Eddie Izzard, Amanda Donohoe. Directed by Rob Walker.

   There’s plenty of split opinion to go around on this movie, but to get mine out of the way first, me, I liked it. For the most part, the dissenters fall into two camps: first, those who couldn’t follow the plot line and gave up, and secondly, those who found it inferior to a number of other similar movies of the British gangster persuasion that came out around the same time: Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, to name two.

CIRCUS John Hannah

   Not so coincidentally, both of these were directed by Guy Ritchie, and as to the latter objection, my opinion may be biased because I’ve yet to see either one.

   But as for the complicated twists and turns of the plot: I loved them! Compared to a movie like Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (reviewed here) in which the story line is straight as a string, with the mildest of zingers at the end, Circus is absolutely dynamite.

   One never knows (until the next scene) who is in cahoots with whom, and not even with a scorecard can you even tell which players are on which team.

   It would take several watchings before I’d feel totally confident that I’d have the story completely in my grasp, so that I could relay them on to you, and even then it might not even be possible. I’ll do my best, but I won’t go into detail, and of course you wouldn’t want me to anyway. (You’d hate me tomorrow if I did.)

CIRCUS Famke Janssen

   In any case, here goes: a con artist couple named Leo and Lilly (John Hannah and Famke Janssen) are planning one last final scam, but unknown to them a brutal crime lord named Bruno (Brian Conley) has plans of his own, targeting Leo with a blackmail scheme that’s built around hiring him as a hit man to kill a woman named Gloria (Amanda Donohue) who’s already on Leo’s team, or has Lilly been bending Bruno’s ear so that she’s really working for him, or did I just make that up? In the meantime Leo’s bookie Troy (Eddie Izzard) is after him for some bad bets that he made and he wants to get paid, and can Leo actually trust Lilly? Bruno’s accountant Julius (Peter Stormare) is in on the blackmail scheme, but is he working for Bruno, for Leo, for Lilly, or himself, or is he only a poor schnook who’s being taken advantage of by all three? (Is Gloria really his wife, or is she only another pawn, or does she have a mind of her own?)

   Once again, please keep in mind that some or all of the above is true. Would I lie to you? Yes, I would.

CIRCUS John Hannah

   A complicated story like this could be a huge flop easily if the actors involved weren’t involved, and believe me, they are. No phoned-in roles in this movie. John Hannah you might remember as the later Inspector Rebus in that series, and Famke Janssen is even more memorable as Jean Gray in the “X-Men” extravaganzas. They make a terrific pair, whether working together in this movie, or not, when they are even better.