Robert Pattinson finally has a movie that lets him shine — and not just his pale, sparkly vampire skin either. ‘Water for Elephants’ allows audiences to see Pattinson’s striking portrayal of the bold but sympathetic Jacob Jankowski.
With only one exam standing between Jacob and graduating veterinary school from Cornell University, his whole world comes crashing down when his parents are killed in a car accident. Being forced from his home with absolutely nothing left, Jacob heads for the rails and unknowingly climbs aboard the train for the Benzini Bros. circus.
After being permitted to work as the vet for the troupe, Jacob quickly learns the circus is controlled by the corrupt ringleader, August (Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds). Although he is warned not to cross August, Jacob just cannot resist the pièce de résistance of off-limits: August’s wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde).
With Pattinson playing his typical brooding, no-one-understands-what-I’m-going-through-my-life-is-rough role, it was evident to see how audiences were skeptical of the movie casting sparkly, man of few words, Edward Cullen for the lead. Although this is the role Pattinson typically plays, Jacob Jankowski must’ve been written specifically for him. Pattinson belongs in 1931 with the Benzini Bros. traveling circus. Jacob cannot bear to see the animals treated as brutally as August believes is barely harsh, he fights on their behalf, putting his own life on the line to make sure the animals, specifically Rosie the elephant, are treated justly.
Although Pattinson belongs in 1931, I’m not entirely sure Witherspoon does. Perhaps it is because of the era, but I felt as though Witherspoon played the damsel in distress one too many times throughout the movie. She would never fight back or stand up for herself against her abusive husband, enabling her to sit back and watch the brutality unfold around her.
Despite this misgiving, Witherspoon handles her role of the beautifully seen but not heard Marlena. She gets all dolled up and never truly speaks her mind to her husband, she only opens up around Jacob. Marlena also is the star performer under the big top, making sure everything is flawless for her ravenous, self-absorbed husband.
Although it was the Great Depression, the circus provided a bit of an escape, a relief for those suffering. Seeing this during ‘Elephants’, creates a deceptive elegance: the audience initially sees the glamorous, vivacious life of the circus. But, while watching the film, the audience realizes even the vagabonds were affected and suffering during the Great Depression.
Even though the show wasn’t thriving, August wanted his circus to be an escape for people, but he also wanted to create the best show around; to be on top. August is constantly competing with the better-known Ringling Bros. throughout ‘Elephants’. This greed that fuels him is what eventually leads to his downfall.
‘Elephants’ is a brilliant story of suffering for what you love. With a surprisingly happy ending, audiences are captivated until the very last scene. Even though everything works out for Jacob, the Benzini Bros. circus isn’t one I’d let my children run off to anytime soon.