Movie Review - Water for Elephants

Robert Pattinson made a name for himself by starring in Twilight, a movie adapatation of a very successful book for teens. Pattinson again is starring in a movie adaptation of a book. Only this one is aimed at a different demographic. It may not have the originality, creativity or charm as Tim Burton's Big Fish, which is the closest comparison, but it remains as a lovely film.
Like Big Fish, this movie is about an old man who remembers back on his days working at a circus. The old man here is played by Hal Holbrook who is amazing in every way. He bookends the movie, which is a shame. I would have loved to have seen more of Holbrook. Director Francis Lawrence doesn't make much use of him, as Tim Burton did of Albert Finney.
The younger version of the old man is played by Pattinson. He's a former veterinary student at Cornell University named Jacob. An unfortunate event sends him adrift with nowhere to go. He happens upon a circus that takes him in. He convinces the owner of the circus, August, played by Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds), that he can take care of the animals.
Reese Witherspoon co-stars as Marlena, the star attraction to the Benzini Bros. circus. She's August's wife, but she's significantly younger than him. She came upon his circus as an orphan and like with everyone else was taken in because she had nowhere else to go. Of course, she's beautiful. She's the very image of a 1930s movie star, but her relationship with August seems shaky.
It seems even shakier when Jacob challenges the way August treats the animals in the circus. August runs the horses until they can't stand. He feeds the lions rotten food and he bullies the elephants, or in particular the one new elephant named Rosie. August uses a bull hook, which can stab through the elephant's thick skin, causing her pain, in order to get the animal to move and do what he wants.
His treatment of her becomes atrocious and horrible, and it's barely anything any reasonable person can stand. Jacob becomes the elephant's only defender, and while the movie plays up the love affair, which really only amounts to flirtations between Jacob and Marlena, the real love affair is the one between Jacob and the elephant.
Lawrence offers us glimpses and brief montages of the circus as a spectacle, and we're introduced to a couple of the people who do the laborious work of setting things up, but we don't get to know any of the circus performers. Lawrence makes the train, where the circus performers and animals live, very much a character, or in the least, it's a well utilized space.
Christoph Waltz, the Oscar-winner, is great. Again, he's the antagonist here, but like in his Tarantino film, he is not the main character but he does have the best moments and becomes the most memorable thing in the movie. He's brilliant at becoming a villain whom you love until the end when he turns really evil.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for moments of violence and sexual content.
Running Time: 2 hrs.


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