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USA 2011
Directed by
D Francis Lawrence
120 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Emma Flanagan
3.5 stars

Water For Elephants

Synopsis: The 1929 Depression is biting hard on the average American citizen but only child, Jacob (Robert Pattinson), who is about to finish his Veterinary Science degree at Cornell University, is blissfully unaware of the greater American nightmare, his Polish immigrant parents having kept him ignorant of such matters. His idyllic life comes to an abrupt halt when his parents are killed in a car accident. He takes to the road which leads him to the great Benzini Brothers Circus owned by ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz) and his beautiful wife, Marlena  (Reese Witherspoon), with whom Jacob is immediately smitten.

The big advantage of using the title of the book on which this film is based is that it immediately attracts the a predisposed fan base. The disadvantage is that a title like Water For Elephants sounds like a National Geographic Channel doco.  But this is no doco. It is classic Hollywood confection – or perhaps schmaltz - depending on your preference.

A film’s title is of great importance in attracting an audience. The recent Never Let Me Go, based on the eponymous novel, sounded like a chick flick, but anyone who has seen it will know that there is nothing soppy about it. This alienated a number of people I know who saw it, not knowing anything about it, when their expectations were well and truly not met.

There will be no such problems with Water For Elephants. With Witherspoon as the star attraction of the circus, and Pattinson as the male lead, this is a vehicle for the young and beautiful, most ably supported by a cast including Waltz as the increasingly unstable husband of Marlena & love rival for Jacob. The end of the story is never really in doubt, the question is really only how many obstacles our attractive leads will have to deal with.

The film is handsomely photographed, with very good use made of the steam trains of the time. Costumes, as one would expect, match the glamorous leads at the top end, and look appropriately down at heel for the impoverished. The Big Top scenes are exciting and the editor Alan Edward Bell deserves commendation for seamless cuts between Witherspoon and her stunt doubles.

Academy-Award winner Waltz makes the most of his part; August has been given a reason for being mad and bad, which leads to inner and outer conflict, and allows August to be more than a simple stereotype. Excellent support is also given by, amongst others, veteran actor Jim Norton as the veteran circus traveller who shows Jacob a kindness.  In addition, the elephant and other circus animals provide a serious ‘awwwwwwwww’ factor, along with some scary moments.

But at the end of the day, Water For Elephants  belongs to Witherspoon and RobPat who play the classic hero and heroine just as any Hollywood producer (aka circus ringmaster) would wish: as star attractions.




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