Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz
Directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend)
Rated PG-13
Appropriate for ages 13+

    When folks asked me which movie I have been looking forward to seeing in 2011, the first film on my lips has been Water for Elephants.  I so much adored the book by Sara Gruen and couldn’t wait to see how director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Horse Whisperer) would adapt it to the big screen.  

    While the book follows the life of veterinarian Jacob Jankowski as an older man and as a younger man whose life is about to be changed forever, the movie focuses primarily on younger Jacob (Pattinson) and leaves older Jacob (Hal Holbrook) in a much smaller part.  When young Jacob’s parents die in a car crash in the early 30’s, he finds himself working as a vet for the second-rate Benzini Brothers Circus, led by the sinister but flamboyant August (Waltz).  When he falls in love with August’s wife Marlena (Witherspoon) and a beautiful elephant named Rosie, both of which are severely mistreated by August, he puts himself in a dangerous situation that could cost him his life.  

    It’s a great story on page but its a little hit and miss on screen, mostly due to miscasting of some major parts.  I’m sure with my previous reviews of his films, you’d probably expect me to say that Pattinson was miscast as the lead.  Actually, I thought he was great.  His performance, which showed great range in both the softest and most intense of scenes, was dead-on.  Also well-cast was Waltz as August.  While he is becoming a bit niched as the goto bad guy, he does it so well that you hardly care.  Stealing the show here was the Tai, the elephant actress.  Not only was she beautiful and talented, but she brought more to the table than I’m sure was expected.  She had me mesmerized every minute she was the in the film.

    Miscast here is Witherspoon who simply went the wrong way with her character.  She has shown great talent and depth in other roles, but here she came off as the weakest link.   I’m not sure what she thought she was doing, but the director should have demanded that she be Marlena and not whatever it was she brought with her to the set.  What I also missed was a colorful cast of circus performers and workers.  The actors they chose to fill the supporting cast were subpar and their roles were downplayed significantly, most likely in the desire to cut down the running time.  This is a film that should have been longer and suffered a bit from brevity.  

    As for the production, it was first rate.  The look of the film, driven by the director and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain) was gorgeous and memorable.  Also of note is the beautiful, sweeping score by James Newton Howard (Dark Knight).

    So did it live up to high expectations?  Mostly.  I expected Titanic in circus form and merely got a nice period love story.  I still think that it is an exceptional date night movie and many of the scenes touched me, just as they did in the book.  B+