As a young child in the 50’s I remember my grandfather waking me early one morning and taking me to the circus. What we saw was something that is forever stamped in my memory. It was something few people have had the opportunity to experience—I saw the circus tent go up!
As I stood on a hill clutching my grandfather’s hand I saw the elephants unload the circus train. The men spread the huge canvas on the ground and the elephants were placed in opposite corners; then, on command, they began pulling outward and the tent rose like magic in the middle of a hot and dusty field.
I am happy to say Water for Elephants recreates that magic. The nostalgic atmosphere of the movie took me back to that day. As the men on screen work to erect the tent and corral the animals, I could almost feel the hot sun on my back and taste the sweat on my lips. The portrayal of the circus and the behind the scenes activity is quite authentic—If I can trust the memory of a small child.
Robert Pattinson does a superb job portraying a young, confused veterinarian student forced to drop out of school due to the sudden death of his parents in a car accident. He has such an on-screen charisma that I predict he has a great future ahead of him. Reese Witherspoon, as always, is beguiling; however I feel there could have been a stronger tension created between her character and Pattinson’s. Once again Christoph Waltz portrays pure evil as well as he did in his award-winning performance in Inglorious Bastards. He keeps you wondering if he is truly insane or just delights in watching people squirm while ruining their lives. You sense the devil simmering just underneath his skin. It is also a treat to see veteran actor Hal Holbrook.
As in any circus there is a variety of off-beat characters. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to witness their humanness as they play practical jokes to relieve the tensions and monotony of constant travel and uncertain gate receipts. For animal lovers like myself there is the usual assortment lions and tigers, zebras and horses, and Rosey the Elephant. Here we see the darker side of circus life and the treatment of the animals. Hint, how do you think the lions are fed after an animal dies? Some of the scenes are disturbing but they portray the facts of life and death.
But the bright and shining star of the show and the movie is Rosey the Elephant. We discover it is true elephants are very intelligent animals. I don’t want to give anything away but the true hero of the movie is Rosey.
Water for Elephants is the first award worthy movie of the year. I give it an A.