Water for Elephants (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner05/05/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 115 mins

Watchable, handsomely shot Depression-era drama with strong performances from Witherspoon and Waltz but it's not quite as emotionally engaging as it ought to be and the only character you really care about is the elephant.

What's it all about?
Directed by Francis Lawrence, Water for Elephants is based on the novel by Sara Gruen and stars Robert Pattinson as Jacob Jankowski, a young man whose veterinary degree is cut short by the tragic death of his parents and the subsequent loss of his home in 1931. While attempting to hop a train he falls in with roustabouts from the Benzini Brothers travelling circus and soon persuades hot-tempered boss August Rosenbluth (Christoph Waltz) to give him a job as a vet.

When August buys an elephant (named Rosie) in the hope that it will revive the show's fortunes, Jacob becomes Rosie's trainer and works closely with August's beautiful young wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). The pair duly fall in love but try not to act on it for fear of what August would do if he found out...

The Good
Waltz is excellent as August, providing him with complex layers rather than playing him as the pantomime villain he could have been; it's clear that he has strong feelings for Jacob, for example, though the film shies away from exploring that idea. Witherspoon is equally good, though she's given very little to do and at any rate, both performances are completely upstaged by Tai, the scene-stealing elephant who plays Rosie.

The film looks gorgeous throughout, courtesy of Rodrigo Pieto's sumptuous cinematography coupled with some impressive 1930s production design. Similarly, the cast of characters in the circus is nicely fleshed out, particularly the relationship between Jacob and Walter (Mark Povinelli), his disgruntled dog-loving midget bunkmate.

The Bad
That said, there are a few problems: for one thing, there's a framing device with Jacob as an old man (Hal Holbrook – brilliant casting) telling his story, which automatically saps any tension with regard to the amount of danger Jacob might be in. Similarly, Pattinson is suitably chiselled but Jacob isn't particularly interesting as a character and the central relationship feels oddly passionless; they also have one of the worst meet-cutes ever, where they bond over the shooting of her favourite horse.

Worth seeing?
Despite a few flaws Water for Elephants is never less than watchable, though it's not quite the epic love story it thinks it is and ultimately fails to deliver the required emotional punch.

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Content updated: 18/04/2019 21:33

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