I HAVE never been a fan of animal circuses. Nor am I keen on the idea of riding elephants and camels in Thailand and Broome.
Exploiting innocent creatures just isn't my idea of entertainment.
So where does this leave Water for Elephants, based on the best-selling novel?
The film copped a severe PR blow last week when Animal Defenders International claimed the 'star', a Herculean elephant portrayed by 42-year-old film veteran Tai (The Jungle Book), was abused.
The animal's trainers hit back at the criticism, while the filmmakers and stars maintained throughout the publicity trail that no animals were harmed. Furthermore, the film's official media kit proclaims that American Human Association safety representatives were on set, ensuring that the production complied with animal safety and welfare requirements.
Whoever or whatever one believes, Water for Elephants is an undeniably magical retro melodrama with a transfixing forbidden attraction at its heart, brought to life by beautiful period costuming and sets.
Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson (who proves a capable romantic male lead) plays Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary science university student with a promising future, until an awful family tragedy turns his world upside down.
Jacob winds up working as a vet during the 1930s Great Depression with “the most spectacular show on Earth”, The Benzini Bros. Circus, which is headed up by the equal-parts menacing and charming August (Inglourious Basterds' Christoph Waltz turns in a cracking villainous performance).
Among the canvas tents and exotic animals, Jacob locks eyes with Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), a goddess-like horseback rider and performer, who just so happens to be the wife of the boss.
The pull is immediate and electric, but while Jacob continues to make advances, Marlena remains guarded, with August's new star animal attraction, the gorgeous elephant Rosie, bringing the pair together.
Water for Elephants is an absorbing guilty pleasure fuelled by a powerful chemistry between its two leads and an opulent aesthetic that had me swooning and, dare I say it, wanting to run away and join the circus (sans animals, of course).
WATER for Elephants (M)
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
Rating: Four stars
Reviewed by: Emilia Vranjes