Adapted from the novel by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson), a young man in the 1930’s Depression era who, after experiencing a sudden life change, runs away and, funnily enough, joins the circus. Told by the older Jacob, the audience are taken back in time to ‘The Most Spectacular Show on Earth’.
Jacob joins the infamous Benzini Brothers Circus show and, after briefly working as a roustabout, he is then promoted to vet. It is here that he encounters the star performer, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and her MC husband, August (Christoph Waltz). Forming an unlikely and slightly tainted friendship, Jacob and August work together on creating a new star attraction in Rosie the elephant, a move they hope will help Benzini reach new heights. All the while love is forming under this Big Top between Jacob and Marlena.
Water for Elephants is a beautiful story and Gruen’s novel is packed full of stunning imagery, colourful characters and, most importantly, an old fashioned love story. Director Frances Lawrence has created the same here when adapting the novel to the big screen. The sets, costumes, make up and animals are a visionary delight that truly make for the most spectacular show on earth.
Pattinson, in a role far removed from that of Edward Cullen in the Twilight saga, is a most welcome treat. He shows promise here that he can leave behind this famous Vampire and move into more serious roles. As Jacob he has the naivety, the handsomeness and the caring quality that Jacob in the novel has, both young and old. Reese Witherspoon is a good Marlena, blonde here instead of brunette as in the novel, and plays her with a cool and lonely expression, her big eyes crying out to be loved. Having seen her in films like Walk the Line, audiences know that Witherspoon is a versatile actress and one that works for her craft. As a circus star attraction she is not only believable but loveable too. Christoph Waltz, who became more noticeable in his role in Inglorious Basterds, really shines as August. He portrays the schizophrenic exactly how it is written on the page, with a violent temper mixed with roguish charm and charisma.
A true delight in this film is Rosie the elephant, played by Tai. Tai is a star and from her first entrance her chemistry with the leads is adorable and her character shines through and beyond all others. Integral to the story, her presence has to be known almost as much as the human leads and she achieves this brilliantly.
This film is a brilliant two hour piece of romance, excitement, love and loss. It is a thrill to see and even more so to read. Set in a time of heartache and struggle, Water for Elephants proves that dreams can come true, even if it means running away with the circus.
Best performances: Christoph Waltz and Rosie the Elephant.
Best scene: The elephant training and the dancing in the nightclub.
Best line: ‘I’m not running away, I’m coming home’ – Jacob
Although they play lovers here, Witherspoon plays Pattinson’s mother in a deleted scene of Vanity Fair.