This past holiday season, I ordered up the film Water for Elephants to watch on my iPod during a plane ride across the US. I realise that by watching a movie this way, on the tiny screen, one might not get the entire impact, yet I did arrive at my destination feeling as though I'd had a powerful cinematic experience. Based on the novel by Sara Gruen, it begins when an old man tells a circus worker his tale of a great love from his past, of his life in the circus, and a dedication to caring for its animals. We flash back to the young Jacob, played by Robert Pattinson, about to take his final veterinary school exam, when some terrible news makes him abandon that path. Wandering alone, he comes upon a circus, and makes himself valuable as their veterinarian. He meets the beautiful Marlena, played by Reese Witherspoon, and is mesmerized by her stunning act with horses in the big ring. When the troupe acquires an elephant named Rosie, it is Jacob who figures out it responds only to Polish commands (Jacob's parents' native language). As Marlena develops an act with the elephant, Jacob falls deeper and deeper in love with her, while he also discovers the terribly abusive and violent side of her husband August, the owner and ringmaster of the circus, played by Christoph Waltz. The story is at once frightening, romantic and moving. We cannot help but root for Jacob and Marlena's growing relationship.

The story is at once frightening, romantic and moving. We cannot help but root for Jacob and Marlena's growing relationship, especially in the face of August's terrifying alcoholism and possessiveness. You might remember Waltz as the sadistic Nazi in the 2009 film Inglourious Basterds. Well, perhaps he is becoming typecast because he is equally brilliant and chilling in this role.
Witherspoon does not disappoint either. A beautiful woman with a beautiful body, her Marlena is at once vulnerable and strong, able to convey deep longing and terrible pain with equal power. Unfortunately, I cannot praise Pattinson's acting as enthusiastically. I came away from this film feeling like he was well cast as Edward the vampire in the Twilight series, because, as a human, he seems empty and soul-less. His pretty face saves him though, and we are able to accept his Jacob based on that, and a well-written script. (All in all, it's a beautifully crafted film, and the story has a satisfying ending. It's not always easy to watch, due to the animal abuse and violence, but even that is not ultimately off-putting. It's a romantic film with more to it than just a romance, and it made a long journey fly quickly by.

Movie reviewed by Georgina Young-Ellis

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