REVIEW: ‘Water for Elephants’ a “twisted little joy ride of a behind-the-big-top drama”


Mmmm, what a delicious combination of cinematic ingredients! Add beautiful actors, stunningly rich production design, transcendent cinematography, glittering 1930s costumes, deceit, betrayal, love, lust, and trained animals, mix them up in an enormous circus tent, and voila! You have Francis Lawrence’s twisted little joy ride of a behind-the-big-top drama, Water For Elephants, the story of a young man beginning an unexpected, after college life.

The film begins in the somewhat cliché tradition of The Notebook and The Green Mile, but introducing us to the much aged Jocob Jankowski, (Hal Holbrook) standing in a circus parking lot long after hours. At first glance, it seems the old man may have lost a few screws over the years. As the circus’ owner, played by Paul Schneider, prods him with questions however, he soon finds that not only is the old man lucid, he has quite a story to tell, namely, the great tale of one of the greatest circus disasters in history.

Ordinarily, an introduction like this would have immediately turned me off due to it’s innate here-we-go-again quality. There is something different about this film though: the almost surreal picture quality, the sincerity with which the opening scene is directed and performed, and the few juicy dialogue lines of intrigue, excited me enough to kick off my shoes, curl up in my seat, and settle in for the two hour escape.

And what an escape it is. Nearly every single scene is richly layered with action, meaning, and a host of scenic elements for your eyes to dart to. In addition, the wide landscape scenes are grand enough to take your breath away, and it isn’t just because they are beautiful. Barreling down the tracks on a steaming locomotive beneath the vast, moon lit night sky was the perfect illustration of the feeling of a life beginning and the excitement for the journey ahead. Such is the journey of young Jacob, played by Robert Pattinson.

To tell you the truth, I really didn’t know what to expect from Hollywood’s dashing young starlet. Not to demean vampires in any way, but the artistic burden of playing a stoic, sexy, sparkling, member of the undeads has always seemed about as heavy as a few cloves of garlic. How would Mr. Pattinson fair when presented with a three dimensional, layered character who has suffered real pain, while experiencing love for the first time? Well, ladies and gentleman, I must say, I was thrilled to discover that our once pretty little blood sucker packs enough talent behind that chiseled face to truly become one of our next leading men. And thank goodness for him, or he would have been blown out of the water by the dynamic Christoph Waltz.

Waltz plays the tyrannical owner of the Benzini Brother’s traveling circus, August, who is a brutal as he is charming. What makes this character so frightening is that Waltz avoided the easy choice to make this man purely evil. By craftily layering the internal conflict, Waltz constructs a villain with the powerful combination of empathy and unpredictability. You don’t know whether this man is going to kiss you or kill you, and it works.

The one major problem with this film, most unfortunately, is the picturesque, elephant riding, ingénue, and Hollywood veteran… ring, ring! It’s Reese Witherspoon. That’s right folks, she phoned it in. The performance’s impact on the film is almost tragic. She returns Pattinson’s infatuation with boredom, and Waltz’s intimidation with half-hearted discomfort, making one wonder if she can ever return from the land of the half-wit romantic comedy.

That said, the film is not a wash because of her. If you do decide to make Water For Elephants your movie of choice for a night out, know that it is fairly easy to ignore Ms. Witherspoon and focus on all of the intricate production design surrounding her. 

About deb24601

I write stuff. About books, music, movies... occasionally about Robert Pattinson. *whistles* I blog with and
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7 Responses to REVIEW: ‘Water for Elephants’ a “twisted little joy ride of a behind-the-big-top drama”

  1. rpattzgirl says:

    What a wonderful review!!! Well except for Reeses part…

  2. Debby says:

    I 100% agree with this entire article!! My friend and I said from the beginning there is more of a connection with Rob & Christoph (Jacob & August) and Rob (Jacob) and the animals then there is between Rob & Reese (Jacob & Marlena). I thought she was so different then the Marlena in the book. Reese played Marlena as a strong & almost bitchy woman. In the book, Marlena is abused & broken down. You didn’t talk to men or your husband back then the way Reese’s Marlena did. She was too strong & too old for that part. Plus, she changed voices in the movie. At first, she was soft & timid then turned into a strong & bitchy person. I loved the movie, thought Rob & Christoph did an amazing job but thought Reese fell short. Definitely see this movie!!!!

  3. Colette says:

    I heartily disagree. I thought Reese was excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie! Directory, Francis Lawrence did a great job bringing the period to life and drawing you into the story. I will see it again!

  4. Kriss Evanson says:

    Debby is on the money. Reese’s performance was pathetic. And why would she be so grossly negative about her co-star’s personal effects before we even have a chance to see the movie? At this stage of her career she should know better, not to mention it doesn’t fare well with Mr. Pattinson’s fans. Sorry Reese, you weren’t the star; not even close.
    PS What a beautiful movie.

    • Mia says:

      What are u talking about? Reese has been nothing but positive about Rob, a few things she’s said may have been misinterpreted and twisted by the media but surely Rob fans know by now how the media twists the truth. She’s had nothing but lovely things to say about him.

      • KrissE says:

        I don’t know what I’m talking about. I loved the movie but I just didn’t feel it from Reese (not young or passionate enough) and I got carried away. I took issue with comments about green expectorant, being dirty and running like a girl but you are right, the media does twist.

  5. Izzie says:

    I love this review I agree with most of it…Though i like Reese I thought she wasnt the marleena I pictured from the book

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