During The Great Depression, Jacob Jankoski (Robert Pattinson), a homeless veterinary student, joins a struggling, traveling circus where he immediately falls in love with Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the beautiful young wife of August (Christoph Waltz) the troupe’s ruthless, albeit charming, owner.
The circus’ fortunes change for the better when it acquires Rosie, an elephant, which becomes the star attraction. However, August’s jealously and his cruel ways eventually lead to one of the greatest disasters in circus history.
Being an animal lover, there are reasons why I should not have liked Water For Elephants. The picture contains scenes of animal cruelty, and the fact that I had to put my cat down a couple of weeks ago didn’t make watching them any easier.
Nevertheless, knowing that no animals were actually harmed during its making, I did like this movie…very much.
Adapted by Richard LaGravenese from the novel by Sara Gruen and directed by Francis Lawrence, the handsome, exquisitely photographed film effortlessly whisks viewers back to 1931; to the tragic days of The Great Depression and the colorful world of the circus.
Despite what might take place in the center ring, the circus is not a pretty world. It is filled with hungry people who will do just about anything, including murder, to survive. Indeed, if the owner (Waltz) cannot meet his payroll, a few workers deemed unnecessary are “red-lighted,” tossed off the show’s fast moving train, often to their deaths.
The engrossing story, which takes some liberties with the original novel, is told in flashback, related by an elderly Jacob Jankoski (Hal Holbrook), who has run off from his nursing home.
The climatic scene, which I will not reveal here, is certainly timely, in many ways mirroring a sad event that took place recently in Ohio.
Performances are flawless. Christoph Waltz makes the perfect villain, and the lovely Ms. Witherspoon is totally convincing as his circus star wife, trapped by the Depression in a loveless marriage. Robert Pattison is likeable as the naïve Jacob, as is Hal Holbrook in the role of the elder Jankowski.
But, the true star of this movie is Rosie, the elephant. She is a delight and, if it weren’t for the fact that I’d have to follow her around with a big shovel, I’d bring her home as a pet.
The widescreen picture (2.35:1) is razor-sharp. There are no noticeable flaws.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound is excellent.
Audio Commentary with the director and screenwriter.
The Traveling Show: Page to Screen is a 10-minute “Behind the Scenes” featurette featuring interviews with the key actors, director, screenwriter and Sara Gruen, who wrote the novel.
Feature Performer Reese Witherspoon is a short featurette that shows how the actress trained to become a circus performer.
Exclusive Robert Pattinson Spotlight is a short featurette about the actor and his work on the film.
Water For Elephants is an entertaining journey back in time to a simpler, perhaps crueler era of American history. Scenes involving animal cruelty may be upsetting to some viewers.