While sitting his final exams at Cornell University, veterinary science student Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) learns his parents have died in a car accident. With his father leaving behind crippling debts, the family home is repossessed, and Jacob hops on a train to anywhere.
Discovering he has boarded the Benzini Brothers Circus train, Jacob manages to convince owner August (Christoph Waltz) to give him a job tending to the animals. He soon learns, however, that August is an uncompromising master who puts his show before the creatures' wellbeing.
A defiant Jacob does his best to protect them, but discovers August is not a man to be messed with, an issue that comes sharply into focus when he falls for his boss's kind-hearted wife, circus performer Marlene (Reese Witherspoon).
Lavish production design and some sparkling performances bring Francis Lawrence's adaptation of Sara Gruen's bestseller to life.
Waltz gives a typically excellent, if familiar, turn as the villainous August, while Hal Holbrook and Paul Schneider are welcome additions to the cast.
Pattinson delivers perhaps his best performance to date as he looks to establish a career outside of the Twilight franchise, while Oscar winner Witherspoon brings plenty of Hollywood glamour. Perhaps, due to their age difference, the pair struggle to generate the sizzling chemistry required to make the story as heart-rending as it should be, but this handsome drama is still an engaging watch and a real treat for romance fans.