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Water for Elephants

A 2011 movie directed by Francis Lawrence.

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All the energy of the circus; but not enough of the character.

  • Feb 5, 2012
**1/2 out of ****

In those few circus movies both new and old, one thing appears to remain constant; the presence of a train. In my experience, it's the great circus movies that leave out this aspect; while the good, the bad, and the mediocre sub-genre entries treat the inclusion of the railway as a sort of necessity. In the case of "Water for Elephants", the new film from director Richard LaGravenese, there is a train; and it acts not only as a method of transportation for its characters but also as an essential gateway. For the heroes and pseudo-villains of the story; the train controls what comes in and out rather than man.

The tale is told delicately through the eyes of a handsome young man named Jacob (Robert Pattinson); a bright lad who is about to finish college - studying as a veterinarian - when the sudden death of both his parents puts an end to his future dreams. Inheriting nothing thanks to some unwise financial moves by way of his father; Jacob must find a home. That's where the train comes in. He settles down somewhere in the woods when the train's illuminating lights catch his way. He successfully makes his way on from there; and meets some of the fellow train-riders.

When he wakes up the next morning, Jacob discovers that the train belongs to a traveling circus; in preparation for their next big show. It is headed by the head-strong August Rosenbluth (Christoph Waltz), who lives with his gorgeous wife - who, if I may add, also acts as one of his many performers - Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). In no time, Jacob is able to work his way up from the lows of shoveling animal feces to the highs of a respectable position as the circus's main veterinarian.

The main attraction of the most recent show is to be a large, stubborn elephant. Both Marlena and Jacob adore the animal (which the cynical August resents it); although the towering mammal is not present for the sake of appeal alone. The elephant represents a turning point in the story; as the animal itself gives Jacob and Marlene some time to bond (which leads to the development of a full-fledged love triangle) and August something - or someone - to unleash his primal rage onto without consequence.

It's predictable, it's routine, but it all goes down a little better than one might expect. With all due respect, this is a pretty well-made circus flick, with a lot of eye-opening production design and camerawork that properly re-creates the look and feel of the Great Depression Era setting. I just wish the story could have done the same. "Water for Elephants" is told with affection for its characters and respect for its time period; but the fatal flaw is the inclusion of the romantic sub-plots, which are soon to become more than just sub-plots, and herein lays one of the film's biggest problems.

While every last leading performance here is truly excellent; I don't know if one can call the on-screen chemistry that Pattinson and Witherspoon share "effective". "Passable" might be a better - and the best - word. There's a refreshing sweetness and simplicity to the love story at hand, but there's also an inexcusable emptiness to it all as well. I enjoyed most of "Water for Elephants" because it is indeed a very entertaining (and more than likely worthwhile) film; but the problems I have listed are ones that I simply could not get off my mind. It's clear that the filmmakers loved their era, not their characters; with only that of Christoph Waltz inspiring any kind of intrigue whatsoever. Waltz brings that sort of Hans Landa-esque unpredictability that he exercised in "Ingloruious Basterds", his break-out film and role, and lends the film some heart and intelligence, although he can't keep it from faltering just a bit too much than I'd like from time-to-time.

I have no problem with this movie. It's a fine piece of entertainment with some interesting historical touches - albeit less educational merit to go along with it than one might expect from a film of this caliber - and I think a family audience will appreciate it. And just so we can get one thing cleared up; I appreciate the movie enough as it is, I just can't say I particularly liked it. I'd strongly suggest it to those who are looking for easy-going entertainment rather than the deeper, more consistently engaging period romance that I was anticipating. No matter, that's just my opinion; and I have no trouble believing that many others will like "Water for Elephants" more than I did. It's far from a bad - or boring, or dull - movie; but it barely surpasses the quality of a mere "flick". As both a romance movie and just a movie-movie all together, it's rather forgettable; but not regrettable.

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review by . April 26, 2011
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review by . June 06, 2011
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Water for Elephants is an award winning film in my book. This movie is rated PG-13 and is based in the 1930's. This is a romantic drama and will last about 2 hours. This is directed by Francis Lawerence and written by Richard LaGravenese and Sara Gruen. The main stars of this film is Robert Pattinson and Teese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz. You probably are wondering why Robert Pattinson looks familiar and that is because he has in movies such as: Twilight as Edward Cullen and in the Harry …
review by . April 23, 2011
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Star Rating:         Water for Elephants, based on the novel by Sara Gruen, is a gloriously old-fashioned movie – a lurid romantic melodrama that plays on the emotions like a finely-tuned violin. With its visual splendor, its touches of Depression-era grittiness, and its love-struck main characters, the film has a charmingly nostalgic feel about it. It even supplies us with one of the best narrative conventions there is, namely a life story told in flashback by …
review by . April 22, 2011
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   'Water For Elephants' directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and written by Richard LaGravenese (The Bridges Of Madison County) is based on the novel of the same name.  The book was written by Sara Gruen and was on the New York Times best seller list for over 12 weeks in 2006.      The film takes place during the Great Depression...1930's...a time when people needed desperately to escape their world of poverty...People needed a place where they …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a traveling circus as their vet.
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Director: Francis Lawrence
Genre: Drama
Release Date: 22 April 2011 (USA)
Runtime: 120 minutes
Studio: Fox 2000 Pictures, 3 Arts Entertainment, Flashpoint Entertainment
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