During the Depression, many people are struggling to get by. After the tragic death of his parents just before finishing his studies at Cornell, Jacob finds himself at a loss. After jumping a nearby train, he discovers that he has joined the circus. While given a chance to pull his weight, he immediately finds himself taken back by the beauty of the star of the show, Marlena. Jacob is given an opportunity prove himself useful to the circus’s ringleader and becomes the show’s personal vet. As the show continues to struggle, ringleader August acquires an elephant for Marlena’s performance and chooses Jacob to be her bull handler. As the show becomes more popular, the forbidden love between Jacob and Marlena grows, creating increasing tension between the couple and August.
Starring: Robert Pattinson (Jacob), Reese Witherspoon (Marlena), Christoph Waltz (August), Paul Schneider (Charlie), Jim Norton (Camel), Hal Holbrook (older Jacob), Mark Povinelli (Kinko)
Robert Pattinson breaks away from his Twilight success for a more serious romantic drama. He maintains a constant element of sadness, which begins near the beginning with the loss of his parents. Even as he continues to find a place in his new traveling family and experience a budding romance with Marlena, he is always with a hint of sorrow. As his love interest, Reese Witherspoon begins her on-screen appearance with a bit of an untouchable element until she connects with Jacob’s veterinary skill, which almost immediately opens her up to his charm. She seems at ease with the horses and elephant, which seems to bring out a more natural smile in those scenes. Christoph Waltz brings his trademark intensity to this role, appearing to be both dedicated to his circus’s success while also giving in to his emotions during times of frustration and jealousy. Hal Holbrook joins in during the beginning and end of the film, similar to the telling of the story in Titanic, with a bit of humor.
Sara Gruen’s novel is brought to life by director Francis Lawrence. While it may be missing some of the grit of the bestseller, the movie focuses on a young man who joins the circus out of necessity of finding a new path and the love for a woman and of animals. After finding his place with the circus, the story turns into one of a love triangle between Jacob, Marlena and August, which dominates the rest of the story up to the tragic ending of the Benzini Brothers Circus. The atmosphere and staging is vivid and the costumes help to create the spectacle. Tai the elephant steals the show at times with her antics and intelligence. Overall, the magic of the circus and conflict between love, friendship and success paint a colorful and engaging experience.
Between the story, acting and imagery, Water for Elephants is truly a magical experience.
Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5