On the verge of becoming a veterinarian, Polish American Jacob (Robert Pattinson) learns that his parents have been killed in a car accident. He's left with no money and must leave university without graduating.
One day, while wandering along a railway line, Jacob impulsively hops aboard a moving train. It is home to the "most spectacular show on earth", The Benzini Brothers' Circus. He gets a job caring for the show's elephant, Rosie, and finds a way to communicate with the animal once deemed stupid.
Soon a forbidden romance develops between Jacob and Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the circus star who is married to the psychotic ringmaster, August (Christopher Waltz).
Waltz gives another Oscar-worthy performance. His Jekyll-and-Hyde portrayal puts viewers on edge - you never know when he'll turn crazy. In many ways, the anticipation is scarier than the outbursts.
Yet August has depth and a human side to him. He is a loving and caring husband, who rescued Marlena from obscurity and made her a star.
After watching the film, you'll feel the urge to read the original novel by Sara Gruen to learn key issues glossed over in the show.
Contains scenes of violence and mature themes