Water for Elephants

Welcome to the spectacular world of the circus in the 1930’s.  Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Water for Elephants follows the story of Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) from his years at Cornell studying veterinary sciences through his unlikely journey to the circus.  Although never graduating, Jacob finds work as the show vet for August (Christoph Waltz) and his Benzini Brother’s circus.  Riding the rails of this spectacular show, Jacob experiences the protocol of life under August, the hard times that faces the working men of the circus and the affection of August’s wife and main attraction Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).  August, in an attempt to keep the circus profitable, purchases an elephant named Rosie.  Jacob becomes the trainer which brings him closer to Marlena.

The film is pitted as a romance between two unattainable lovers but as the movie continued I cared less about the romance and more about Jacbob’s relationship with the elephant.  The pending failure of the circus causes August to act out in rage against Rosie.  Jacob becomes not only the trainer but the guardian of Rosie and eventually Marlena against August’s aggression.  Dramatic scenes of abuse towards Rosie are followed by heartwarming scenes of protection by Jacob.  Like most of the men, Rosie likes a good bottle of whiskey and becomes a favorite of the carnies.  The love she receives from the crew and her intelligence only fuels my compassion towards her.

It was interesting to see Christoph Waltz in one of his first roles following his acclaimed part in Inglorious Bastards. I hate to judge him on two performances but Waltz depiction of August seems like a sequel to Col. Hans Landa.  His comedic villainy that shot him to fame echoed in his role as August.  Humorous smirks were followed by unthinkable horrors including red lighting, which was the practice of throwing men off moving trains to avoid paying them.  I have no doubt that Waltz is a talented actor but it seems that he has already been typecast as the villain.

The cinematic beauty that is this film is unparalleled.  I left the theater thinking about how expansive and vibrant the film became.  The director, Francis Lawrence really created the world of the 1930’s circus with fat ladies, animals and freaks of all sorts.  The colors were bright and eye-catching while the acts were mesmerizing.  Think Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Brothers, which coincidentally was a competitor, and you have the splendor that was the Benzini Brother’s Circus.

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