Review: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS - Visually Stunning, Old Fashioned Romance

rating: 3.5

Today sees the U.K. release of Water for Elephants, the romantic drama based on Sara Gruen€™s bestselling novel of the same name, that has been adapted for the screen by Oscar nominated screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Bridges of Madison County, The Horse Whisperer) and director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend). Set in 1930s Depression era America, Twilight's Robert Pattinson leads as Jacob Jankowski, a happy and privileged young man studying for a degree in veterinary science at Cornell, his life is turned upside down when his parents are killed in a tragic car accident. Orphaned and homeless (Jacob learns that his parents had remortgaged the family home in order to pay his tuition fees), he takes to the road and jumps aboard the first passing train that he sees. In a strange twist of fate, this isn€™t just any train but happens to be the home of The Benzini Bros - a struggling circus. When circus owner and ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz) hears news of his new stowaway, his first thought is to have him thrown from the train (something we learn that August is prone to doing when someone displeases him or he cannot afford to pay his men), but when he learns of Jacob€™s veterinary background, he quickly puts him to work as the new circus vet. Jacob€™s first task is to tend to a sick horse owned by August€™s wife and star attraction Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). When Jacob tells August that the horse is suffering and needs to be put down, August refuses. The circus is hardly making ends meet as it is and to kill off one of the star attractions is out of the question. But Jacob decides to go against his wishes and in an act of compassion puts the horse out of its misery. It is in this act of kindness that Marlena is first drawn to Jacob and their friendship begins. To replace his star attraction and in hope of reviving his fading circus, August buys Rosie the elephant. He intends for Marlena to ride Rosie and puts Jacob in charge of training and caring for her. As Marlena and Jacob bond over their mutual love for Rosie, it is August€™s brutal methods and uncontrollable fits of rage that eventually drive them in to one another€™s arms. What really works in the film is the complex relationship between August, Marlena and Jacob. Impressed by his Ivy League education, August takes Jacob under his wing and often invites him to dine with them in the evenings. A privilege that it seems is befitting of few. They seem to enjoy each other€™s company but all the while there is a sense of unease as Jacob€™s feelings for Marlena grow along with August€™s suspicions. Christoph Waltz is perfect casting here in only his third Hollywood movie. His character is incredibly charming and charismatic but with an underlying sense of danger, much akin to Waltz€™s Colonel Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds. He does a marvellous job of portraying both August€™s cruelty and darkness while at other times making him likable and even creating a sense of pathos for him. Witherspoon€™s performance reinforces this notion. August saved Marlena from an ordinary life, training her as a performer and making her his star attraction. He looked after her and provided her with a glamorous lifestyle which she adores and it is clear that she has great affection for him despite what others may think. While at times the chemistry between Pattinson and Witherspoon can be a little lacklustre they both deliver likeable performances and Pattinson manages to carry the weight of the film as it€™s star. What€™s more is it seems like he was genuinely enjoying himself which makes a nice change from his brooding and brow-furrowing as Edward Cullen in the Twilight Saga. A welcome alternative to the action-packed blockbusters of the summer months, Water for Elephants is a visually stunning, old fashioned romance that gives you a glimpse of what it might really be like to run away and join the circus. We could never have predicted that the director Constantine and I Am Legend would end up turning in such a piece. Water For Elephants was released in the U.K. today.
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