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movie poster from swar for elephants
Fox Pictures

This is a traditional romantic drama of the old school with “Twilight” idol Robert Pattinson in the lead role. This is the type of film that is rarely made anymore, with a story that is so timeless that it could have been filmed any time in the last 50 years. It captures the mood of the 1930s and you really get a sense of what it must have been like to live during that time in history , during the hard depression years of the thirties.

This is the story of Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson), a young man who loses everything when his parents die in a car accident. He leaves veterinary studies at Cornell University and like so many unemployed men in the 30s, hits the road. He jumps on a train and ends up as stowaway on one of the cars for the circus Benzini Brothers Circus. Circus Owner August confronts him and decides that young man with a veterinary education could be useful in a circus where the animals are dying of hunger and diseases. August is seemingly charming but is, in fact, a capricious sadist who is not afraid to harm, even kill, people or animals who disappoint him. Water for Elephants paints an authentic picture of circus life of the thirties, a merciless nomadic existence that operates in its own closed universe. Particularly fascinating are descriptions of the practice called red-lighting where employees were fired by being thrown off the circus train at full speed, with little chance for survival.

And the performances are good... Christoph Waltz is captivating as a complex character, August, and Reese Witherspoon walks a fine line between the role of, Marlena, the dutiful wife of August and a lovely circus performer who works with and rides the big animals including the elephant, Rosie. But it is Robert Pattinson who delivers a range of emotion not seen from him before. He is understated and plays a gentleman and a scholar but also shows passion and intensity. The real star of the show is the majestic elephant herself (Rosie) who is the object of August’s wrath and the recipient of the love and care of Jacob and Marlena.

“Water for Elephants” may not be the best show on earth, but it’s still quite a show. It doesn't pretend to be anything other than an old-fashioned melodrama spun for as much emotion and romance as possible.

PG-13 is rating and nothing jumps out except some limited cruelty to animals.

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