Before diving in, I must say that I have not read the book by Sara Gruen so comparisons between the book and its onscreen adaptation simply can’t be made by myself, but if you have read the book, please do not hesitate to step in.
Audiences and Twilight fans will most likely believe that Water for Elephants is all about Robert Pattinson’s character Jacob; however this isn’t really the case. The story basically starts of with the introduction to Jacob and his ambitions to become a vet. Attending Cornell University and taking part in what would be the exam that would make or break him, he hears the tragic news that his parents have died in a car accident. As this is taking place in the 1930’s during the Great Depression, he is left penniless (so he can’t continue with his studies) and without a home because his mother and father ran into debt to pay for his studies. All of this is being told in a Titanic/The Notebook flashback style by Jacob in his older years (played by Hal Holbrook). With not much on his plate, Jacob decides to set sail and look for work anywhere he can, which leads him hitching a ride on a train in the middle of the night, not knowing that this would be the start of his new found journey.
He discovers that he has landed himself onto a circus train, travelling to its next destination. From here on and a tiny white lie, he lands the job as the vet and eventually the trainer of the intelligent yet sweet elephant, Rosie. All of this happening over time of course, however they all come with the temptation of falling in love with the ring master’s wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).
The character of Jacob doesn’t really have that much of a script, he barely says anything but; his character does come more to life with the gracious Rosie. I guess this could be explainable since his parents have just died and the only thing that would bring a little spark to his eyes is spending time with the animals. However one disappointment was the chemistry between Jacob and Marlena. It felt kind of awkward at times and it just didn’t click enough. They are the central couple, but it didn’t really feel like it. We notice that they are fond of each other as they stylishly speak of it through song titles, which were quite clever, but it wasn’t enough. There needed to be more between the two and I was hoping it would pick up as the film went along, but it just stood still.
Robert Pattinson, moving away from the whole Twilight, sexy, cold blooded vamp trait, did a good job as Jacob, though there wasn’t much to the character. Though I had no doubt, it does show that he can act outside Twilight, but this wasn’t his big break, there is so much more to Pattinson then what we’ve seen. But it shouldn’t be rushed. Take Zac Efron for example, Charlie St Cloud seemed to have broken him out of High School Musical/ musicals in general with his teary performance. From the trailer, R-Patz’s upcoming film Bel Ami could be the one that shows a little bit more of what Pattinson can do. His Oscar moment will come soon. For Reese Witherspoon, again good job of Marlena, I just wish there was more to her other than her low self esteem and emotional (although it wasn’t super emotional) story of what it’s like to be an orphan.
The ones who stole the show for me were in fact Christoph Waltz as ring leader/ circus owner August and the animals. Mistreating the animals (especially Rosie which is quite a teary moment), exploiting his workers, abusing his wife and then trying to be sorry about the whole thing are what we would call a psycho. I liked his character because there was more to him; there was a good story with him, he wasn’t just a person, but a character and there was a lot of energy. As the control freak, his more subtle side is shown a little more than the evil to show why Marlena had stuck by him for so long and make out that his problem is jealously, so they really do hold back on August’s wicked, evilness. For me, they should have showed more, show us how bad he was so we could hate him more and encourage Marlena to have more chemistry with Jacob because, August really does have issues more than jealousy. Christoph Waltz does no wrong for me.
I really do think they should invent an Oscar category for the best animal performance because there are some really super talented animals out there that do not get recognized as much as they should. Rosie the elephant is super intelligent and it’s really adorable. There is a scene where she’s nailed down to the grass and Jacob is at the other side of the tent doing something. She uses her trunk and lifts the nail out of the grass, walks over to the huge jug of lemonade, takes a drink and then walks back over to her exact spot and nails he self back to the ground. Jacob gave a little giggle like the rest of us. I was hoping to see a bit more of Rosie though, there really wasn’t that much.
Francis Lawrence does bring a glossy yet old fashioned Hollywood feel to the glitz and glamour of a 1930’s circus. It’s very bright and vibrant, especially when we become Jacob’s eyes and see the huge tents being put up for the first time as the circus comes to life. The sets, the scenery and the costumes pull the audience into the 1930’s, they make it believable.
Overall, it was a great film, enjoyable and worth the watch. I just think there could have been more to the characters because the story was there. I would say that Water for Elephants is like an orange. The more you squeeze the more juice you can get.