Based on the popular novel, Water for Elephants tells the tale of Jake Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) who was once a bright young veterinarian student at Cornell University in the 1920’s. Before taking his final examinations, his parents are tragically killed in an accident and it turns out they were actually broke and had taken a loan out on their home for Jake’s education. Overnight, Jake is homeless and hits the road in search of a better life.
After hopping on a train car in the middle of the night, Jake encounters a traveling circus crew who take him in and put him to work. After a few days of shoveling manure and sweeping trash, Jake is brought to the owner of the circus, August (Christoph Waltz) who is a shrewd and ruthless business man. August toys with throwing Jake off the train at the next stop, but Jake pleads with August and proclaims he is an Ivy League educated veterinarian.
After Jake proves himself by treating a star horse, he begins an undeniable attraction to August’s wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) who is a captivating and magnetic star of the circus. Jake must euthanize the horse which places the entire circus in jeopardy. In search of an attraction to maintain the circus, August purchases a giant elephant to bring in the crowds.
As Jake and Emily begin to train the elephant they spend more time with each other and eventually give in to their earthly desires. Meanwhile in order to keep the circus afloat, August throws many circus workers off the trains in the middle of the night and stiffs many workers’ pay. As Jake finds happiness in working with all the circus animals, he must also manage a building affair with Marlena while August becomes increasingly suspicious.
I was timid in viewing this film as I expected “Twilight at the Circus” but I was pleased with Pattinson’s performance as Jake and almost expected Christoph Waltz to show up in full Nazi regalia midway through the film and bludgeon Pattinson to death. While Waltz has solidified his capability as an absolute monster on film, Pattinson might just be able to step past his shadow as a brooding and beloved vampire. Reese Witherspoon was acceptable but wooden in her role and the romantic chemistry with Pattinson seemed a bit forced at times.
This time piece set in the Great Depression works well as a whole and is rounded out by stunning set and costume design. Steady pacing and a blend of drama and adventure save this film from being totally average.
All in all, a palatable film with a generic but endearing plot.
The survey says…3 stars out of 5