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Film / Circus

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Don't trust any of these clowns

Circus is a 2000 British crime thriller movie directed by Rob Walker and written by David Logan. The movie stars John Hannah, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Brian Conley, and Eddie Izzard.

Bruno, a sadistic criminal, wants clever con man Leo out of the way. Leo and his equally clever wife, Lily, are up to something. So too is Julius: he hires Leo to kill Gloria, Julius's wife. Leo does it, but then Julius shows up with the murder on tape, saying Gloria isn't his wife - it's blackmail. Leo's bookie, Troy, is also closing in, wanting to be paid. Bruno and Lily as well as Bruno and Julius have their own scams running, and Leo is their target. Maybe Leo can get Troy off his back, avoid Moose (Bruno's huge enforcer), send Gloria's corpse out of England, turn the tables on Bruno's murderous brother Caspar, and outfox Lily. Or is Lily his fox? It's a three-ring circus.

Circus includes examples of:

  • Analogy Backfire:
    Bruno: How could you, Leo? I was like a father to you!
    Leo: You're right. He was a right bastard, too.
  • Berserk Button: Moose is generally as easygoing sort of fellow. But anything happening to Gloria will send him into a blind fury where he rips the doors off cars, among other things.
  • Blackmail: Julius is using a video of Gloria's murder to blackmail Leo and Lilly for half a million pounds.
  • Blast Out: The Mexican Standoff in the Greasy Spoon looks like it is going to be resolved amicably, with everyone starting to lower their weapons, when an employee works through the back door at the wrong moment. One of Bruno's hired guns starts shooting, and a firefight erupts. At least, according to Julius's version of events.
  • Candlelit Bath: Leo and Lily share a candlelit bath before Leo goes to meet the blackmailer.
  • The Con: The film contains multiple nested cons, to the point where it becomes hard to work out just who is conning who. As a tip, whoever thinks they are winning at a particular point, probably isn't.
  • Ear Ache: Bruno displays his displeasure with Arnie by biting off Arnie's ear. Later on, Troy drives a point home to Leo by grabbing Leo's ear and twisting it while they are both standing naked in the sea.
  • Faking the Dead: The death of Gloria is faked as part of an elaborate blackmail scheme, and to turn Moose against his employers.
  • Fingore: Bruno displays his displeasure with Don by having Moose break Don's fingers before firing him.
  • Gambit Pileup: Just about every major character has some sort of scheme running: Leo, Lily, Bruno, Caspar, Julius, Troy, Elmo, and even Gloria (after a fashion). All of them come crashing together as the film races toward the conclusion.
  • Greasy Spoon: Leo goes to meet Julius at an American-style diner, only to be caught in a Mexican Standoff when Bruno's goons show up. One of them even refers to the place as a 'greasy spoon'.
  • Heads or Tails?: Throughout the film, Leo makes several important decisions by tossing a coin. This includes whether he is going to shoot his wife Lily.
  • Hoist Hero over Head: Moose hoists Roscoe over his head before tossing him over the roof of the van.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: When Lily handcuffs Elmo to the door of the bank and leaves him there for the cops, he attempts to shoot her, only to discover that she has unloaded his gun.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Fashionable: This is want appears to be happening when Lily hooks up with Julius. She completely overhauls his wardrobe and personal grooming to transform him from a nerdy accountant into geek chic. However, it turns out to be another con within a con.
  • London Gangster: Bruno and Caspar are based in Brighton, but otherwise fit the trope. Judging from their accents, they may even be displaced Londoners.
  • The Makeover: Lily gives Julius a makeover (accompanied by a Shopping Montage), transforming him from nerdy accountant to geek chic.
  • Man Bites Man: While expressing his displeasure to Arnie, Bruno leans in close to whisper to him, then bites his ear off.
  • Mexican Standoff: The showdown in the Greasy Spoon ends up with Leo pointing a gun at Julius; Bruno's men pointing guns at Leo; and Moose pointing guns at the thugs.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Presumably to humiliate Leo, Troy arranges to meet him on a nudist beach where they are the only people. They end up standing up to their knees in the sea with their naked arses facing the camera.
  • Neck Lift: An enraged Moose lifts Leo up with one hand while strangling him in the elevator.
  • One-Word Title
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Bruno is instructed to create a password for his online banking account consisting of 8 characters. The password he chooses is 'PASSWORD'. Bruno is established to be an idiot, and the Con Artists actually specifically set up the scenario where he needed to create a password so they could use a key logger to record what it is, but even they are astounded to discover it is something so obvious.
  • Psycho Knife Nut: Troy and Roscoe favour knives for threatening their victims. When threatening Leo, Roscoe opens his jacket to show the inside is lined with knives.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Moose, a Scary Black Man who is really an affable family man whose job just happens to be breaking legs for a London Gangster. Best demonstrated when he calmly breaks Don's fingers, and then helps him up. Don thanks him and the two have a pleasant conversation as Moose escorts him off the premises.
  • Scary Black Man: Bruno's chief enforcer is Moose (played by Tiny Lister), who towers over everyone else in the cast. Although normally a Punch-Clock Villain, even the sadistic Bruno steers clear of Moose when his Berserk Button has been pushed.
  • Shopping Montage: Lily subjects Julius to one when she decides to give him The Makeover: buying him new clothes, glasses and hairstyle.
  • Sinister Switchblade: The switchblade is the villainous bookie Troy's weapon of choice. The first time it is seen, it appears seemingly out of nowhere as he holds the blade against Leo's neck. At other points, he whips it out while threatening to cut off various of Leo's body parts for non-payment of debts.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Leo slips Julius a mickey finn before dumping him on the side of the road to take the fall for Bruno's murder.
  • Staged Shooting: The final scene reveals that Lily's shooting and death had been staged (although anyone familiar with Con Man films was probably suspecting it by this point). The shooting of Bruno was real, however.
  • *Twang* Hello: At one point, Troy announces his presence to Leo by throwing a knife so it sticks into the wall beside Leo's head.