Water for Elephants (2011) – Review

3 Stars

The biggest surprise in ‘Water for Elephants’, the new film from director Francis Lawrence, is that ‘Twilight’ sensation Robert Pattinson holds his own on screen with acting heavyweights Witherspoon and Waltz. ‘Elephants’ is a modest picture with enormous entertainment value. A strong narrative is instrumental in keeping the audience engaged for its two hour running-time. Christoph Waltz has the exceedingly flashy role as circus baron named ‘August’, and he makes the most of it. Reminding audiences that he truly deserved the OSCAR he won a few years back for ‘Inglorious Bastards’. Pattinson portrays his character with the right measures of nobility, innocence and a sense of impending doom. To say he is effective when surrounded by this level of acting is a compliment in the highest regards. Nothing in the weak ‘Twilight’ series will prepare you for the depths that he achieves in this film.

The plot revolves around Jacob (Pattinson) a Cornell student studying Veterinary medicine. When his parents die in a car accident Jacob’s world is upended and he hits the railroads looking for a better life. He finds it in joining a traveling circus, very similar to the Wringling Bros. but with a taste of the vulgar thrown in for the rubes of the day. Jacob is offered the job of veterinarian by the sometimes crazed ring leader August (Waltz). Jacob accepts and things are fine until he falls for August’s wife Marlene (Witherspoon). A woman of immense beauty and talent stuck in a marriage and lifestyle that resemble the treatment of the circus animals, owned and trapped.

Sara Gruen’s beloved bestselling novel has been adapted by screenwriter Richard LaGravenese. He has streamlined the fictitious tale of love amongst the backdrop of prohibition, the depression, and the traveling circus with great skill and finesse. Allowing for each of the leads to have a scene that deftly defines what they stand for. But all would be for not without the weight of the subtle, effective work from Waltz. His sharp turns from friendly boss to indescribable maniac are jarring and handled masterfully. Beautiful production values help in creating the look and feel of 1930’s America and the majestic cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto showers the leads in glamorous lighting.

The only hindrance is an unnecessary prologue and epilogue that seem too ‘cutesy’ and derivative of the narrative device used in ‘The Notebook’. While ‘Elephants’ doesn’t resonate or hit the heights of that film, it is an above average tale of lust, greed, and violence.

Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz

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