I went to this one by default. That is, I was interested in going to a movie, which I hadn't done in a while. After looking at what was on offer at the local multiplexes, I picked this one because it sounded the least fluffy and irrelevant of all the new flicks on offer. I found it to be an interesting movie, going to some lengths to recreate a time and place (the traveling circuses of the pre-World War II period in the rural American northeast) with some feeling of verisimilitude.
Three actors play the central characters in the story – Robert Pattinson is Jacob, the Cornell veterinary student whose education is sidetracked by the sudden death of his parents, leaving him with nothing but his charm and what is in his head. Christoph Waltz is August, the proprietor and ringmaster of a touring circus company, perpetually running out of cash, trolling about for new acts, and determined to make a success while holding on to his showcase wife and star attraction, played by Reese Witherspoon. The inevitable triangle emerges. Pattison blunders into a job tending to the animals of the circus, an emotional attraction springs up with Witherspoon, and Waltz, enraged, attempts his revenge. All sorts itself out, and Pattison eventually ages to be Hal Holbrook. (OK, I know that sounds strange. The structural framing of the film is a reminiscence by the elderly Holbrook.)
I thought Waltz was terrific playing the charming but unpredictable nasty. In some ways, he was recycling his role from Inglorious Basterds… Witherspoon was perky but frightened, as the part required. Pattinson is the problem at the heart of the film. He is a fine-looking young man, and seems to be making progress on articulating his lines so that an audience can understand them — not a skill he had mastered for the Twilight films. But he seems to be quite limited still in his ability to project emotions. Too often he has a blank look on his face that suggest inability to relax enough to inhabit his character. I hope he'll grow into being a more effective actor. For now he can coast a bit on youthful sexiness, but that won't last very long unless he develops more of an arsenal of acting skills.
Would I recommend this? It's a decent entertainment. Anybody who is squeamish about the depiction of violence – especially violence against animals – should stay away. That poor elephant!!