A circus of shmaltz and a hip, racy thriller

Cert: 12A

It’s the height of the Great Depression when Jacob (Robert Pattinson) loses everything: his parents, his house, his dreams of graduating veterinary college. En route to a new start in the big city, he hitches a ride on a passing railroad car. But it’s not just any railroad car: it’s the travelling circus!

Aboard, he is taken under the wing of a Hispanic dwarf and a lovably cragged souse (played by the ghost of Compo from Last Of the Summer Wine), and, before long, Jacob is responsible for the well-being of the on-board menagerie. But things get complicated when he falls for Marlena (Reese Withersoon) – who also just happens to be the wife of August, the circus’s cruel proprietor…

The trite plot creaks with familiarity and matters aren’t helped by the extraordinary vacuum of chemistry between the two leads. Perhaps that’s the fault of the writing: Marlena is a painfully two dimensional character and Jacob strides through proceedings agog at the wonder of everything but weirdly not seeming to think too much about his entirely ruined life.

In the abstract, some of the scenes are actually rather hilarious. I couldn’t help but wonder what on earth must have been going through Witherspoon’s mind as she was filmed (a) singing a lullaby to (b) a crippled horse as (c) a teary-eyed R-Patz shot it in the head? Were they oblivious to how ridiculous it all was?

Cert: 12A

Sixteen-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana) have been on the run from the CIA for 15 years. They live off the land in a remote snowbound location in Northern Europe. For her whole life, Erik’s been raising his daughter to do one thing: kill the CIA agent in their pursuit.

After these backbreaking years of dubious parenting, Hanna’s now ready for the task at hand. Father and daughter both embark upon separate cross-continental journeys to neutralise their quarry, taking in locations as diverse as ghoulish subterranean prisons, abandoned fairgrounds, and North African deserts.

Some things just don’t add up. One is that the man charged with hunting down the massive Bana is a tiny Teutonic deviant played by television’s “Rev”, Tom Hollander. Similarly, at the start of her journey, Hanna seems entirely perplexed when she encounters electricity. Fair enough – she’s been brought up in a shack. But just a short time after going mental at the sight of an electric kettle, she’s sat in a German internet café Googling with aplomb. Such discrepancies hinder the suspension of disbelief somewhat.

But these are, ultimately, minor quibbles. With hints of Leon and Natural Born Killers, a thumping industrial soundtrack, sharp cinematography and neck-snappingly cool fight scenes, there are many many worse ways to spend 111 minutes.