- Running time:
- 121 minutes
- Reese Witherspoon -
- Robert Pattinson -
- Christoph Waltz -
- Paul Schneider -
- Jim Norton -
In the midst of the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) loses his parents in a car crash, as well as the financial security they provided for him to pursue veterinary science at Cornell University. Alone and unsure of what to do, Jacob hits the road and hitches a ride with the Benzini Brothers Traveling Circus. His knowledge and background endear him to the ruthless owner August (Christoph Waltz), while a shared love of animals ignites a romantic spark between Jacob and star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon)—who also happens to be August’s wife.
The buzz: Based on a 2006 bestseller by Sara Gruen, “Water for Elephants” unites “Twilight” heartthrob Pattinson with Oscar winners Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”) and Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”). The biggest surprise is the director of this period romance—Francis Lawrence. His previous credits on fantasy action epics “Constantine” and “I Am Legend,” not to mention Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video, don’t exactly fit with a 1930s love triangle.
The verdict: A tenderly drawn romance that wears its old-fashioned qualities like a badge of honor, “Elephants” transports the audience to an era of big tops and railways with equal parts affection and wonder. Every side of the compelling love triangle holds up—Pattinson’s compassionate animal doc, Waltz’s exploitive showman and Witherspoon’s star attraction caught in the middle. Fans of the book may quibble about consolidating two characters into Waltz’s singular antagonist—but the actor’s alternately charismatic and scary standout performance as a man driven by financial and personal pressures should alleviate concerns. He’s more than a one dimensional villain, which adds suspense to the romantic dilemmas and enhances the slow burning chemistry between Witherspoon (returning to fine movie star form after the suffocating “How Do You Know”) and Pattinson (overcoming the overwrought emotions that sunk his tortured romantic in “Remember Me”). Lawrence may not have a resume packed with romance but his sense of spectacle serves the film well in bringing alive impeccable period detail with impressive technical polish. “Elephants” doesn’t have the snarkiness of a 21st-Century rom-com or the sappiness of a Nicholas Sparks tearjerker (though a contemporary framing device featuring Hal Holbrook as an older Jacob and Paul Schneider as a circus employee pays off the film’s emotional investment). It’s a deliberate throwback to an era of grand romantic entertainment, and a reminder that the appeal of a good love story is always timeless.
Did you know? The scene-stealing animal acts are led by 42-year-old elephant Tai in the pivotal role of Rosie, who helps revive the circus’ dwindling audiences. Although the mistreatment of animals is a major plot point in the film, all animal action on set was closely monitored by the American Human Association.
Movie theaters and showtimes for Water for Elephants in Cincinnati.
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