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The Greatest Showman: Show-stopping biopic of PT Barnum


By Damon Smih

Roll up for director Michael Gracey's hyperkinetic, foot-stomping musical based on the topsy-turvy life of circus impresario and master of shameless self-promotion Phineas Taylor Barnum.

Razzle smooches dazzle in every breathlessly choreographed frame of this rags-to-riches fairy tale, set to an infectious score composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won Oscars for La La Land and who should clear their mantelpiece for more golden statuettes.

Unquestionably, the script co-written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, is light on characterisation and polishes the morally questionable legacy of manipulator PT to a sanitised lustre.

Somehow, despite manifold failings, Gracey's picture is a joy-infused, whoop-inducing blast of pleasure that calibrates every swoon of romance with masterful precision.

Barnum once professed: "The noblest art is making others happy." The Greatest Showman does that with a flourish and I was gleefully and giddily suckered.

Tailor's son PT (Hugh Jackman) falls under the spell of Charity Hallett (Michelle Williams), who harks from privileged stock. "Sooner or later, she'll tire of your life, of having nothing," sneers her father (Frederic Lehne).

PT and Charity live modestly with two cherubic daughters (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely) until daddy dearest blags a $10,000 loan for a museum of living curiosities.

Sardonic newspaper critic James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks) denounces the enterprise as "a primitive circus of humbug".

The public disagrees, swarming to PT's palace, which he expands with investment from rich kid Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron).

Hungry for acceptance, PT abandons his position to mastermind the world tour of Swedish songbird Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).

His prolonged absence strains the Barnums' marriage as protests against the circus reach fever pitch.

Like the film version of Mamma Mia!, The Greatest Showman plays to its splashy strengths, delivering pop-powered entertainment in its purest form.

Jackman embraces his role with gusto, catalysing a sweet screen romance with Williams between spectacular musical sequences.

In a daredevil feat worthy of Barnum himself, the disparate elements defy gravity and endlessly delight.

Four stars

Molly's Game: High-stakes poker tale’s a safe bet

The best poker players don't rely on Lady Luck to deal them a winning hand - they make their own fortune through intimidation, and cunning.

Molly Bloom thought she had a winning hand in 2009 as hostess of Hollywood's most exclusive poker game, with a $50,000 stake to sit at a table frequented by film stars and business titans.

Her luck ran out when she was arrested by the FBI, but Bloom refused to fold and divulge secrets of her wealthy clientele.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with a slick dramatisation of her rise and fall.

The first-time filmmaker deals a full house of snappy dialogue to his cast, overplaying his hand on occasion, so Jessica Chastain is forced to deliver screeds in voiceover as the title character.

Some one-liners zing, others are clumsily forced ("I felt I was in a hole so deep I could go fracking"), but the cast is committed.

Molly (Chastain) is a skier destined for the Olympics who pushes herself to the limit to appease her demanding dad (Kevin Costner).

She suffers a shocking injury on the slopes and subsequently lands a job as an assistant to real estate wheeler-dealer Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), who organises poker games for the Hollywood elite.

Molly learns the trade and, when Dean betrays her, retaliates by setting up her own game, luring some of his best punters including Player X (Michael Cera).

As Molly's reputation grows, she attracts members of the Russian mafia to her table, which makes her a target for an FBI sting. Coerced to testify, she seeks counsel from lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba).

Molly's Game is anchored by Chastain, who reflects every facet of her character's psychology as she weathers a storm of vilification.

Elba offers low-key support while Costner is restricted to a handful of moments of parental cruelty gift-wrapped as kindness.

Sorkin's words speak louder than his choices behind the camera and his film is over-long, but he bluffs his way towards a winning position.

Three stars

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