Pretty infrequently do we get to see Robert Pattinson truly shine on screen (Edward the sparkling vampire aside); even more infrequently do we get to experience true, unadulterated movie magic. Water for Elephants unexpectedly lets us experience both. Based on Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel, Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson), a Cornell veterinary student who, after the tragic sudden death of his parents, falls in with a traveling circus. When he becomes in charge of training the 9,000 lb elephant and new star act, Rosie, Jacob and star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon)–who just so happens to be the head-honchos wife–fall in love over their shared compassion for the gentle creature.
There’s something about this story that tugs at your heartstrings and refuses to let go. Visually breathtaking from beginning to end, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto deftly captures all the whimsicality and grandeur of the circus life. Combine that with James Newton Howard’s magnificent score, and the rest is history. Water for Elephants is a film that brings out all of your compassion and leaves you utterly vulnerable to its effects. Like Marlena and Jacob, the viewers will find it near impossible not to fall in love with Rosie–and it’s important to note that animal lovers will find it especially hard to watch some of the graphic scenes of animal cruelty. August (Inglorious Basterds’ Christoph Waltz), the circus ringleader and Marlena’s jealous, hot-tempered husband, is the perpetrator of said cruelty. Waltz’ August is multifaceted and impulsive; He has two sides to him, and whenever he was on screen I couldn’t help but try and brace myself for the outburst that could transpire any second. He doesn’t just steal the scene, he commands it.
Pattinson impresses with his sincere, tender portrayal of Jacob and more than holds his own next to his Oscar-winning co-stars. Though along with all the endless amounts of praise I have for this film, I couldn’t help but wish that Pattinson and Witherspoon had more undeniable chemistry. They’re good enough together on screen, and there are quite a few great romantic scenes…but the passion, intensity and urgency of their situation never quite gets through as much as it could have. Maybe it’s the age gap? Even so, Water for Elephants has so much going for it that the lack of fire between the two leads is easy to overlook. I don’t use the phrase “movie magic” lightly, but what else can you call it when you feel like you’re floating on a cloud, completely mesmerized, while watching a film?