Water for Elephants – 2011
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattison, Christoph Waltz, Tai, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider, James Frain, Ken Foree, Tim Guinee, Mark Povinelli, Scott McDonald, Jim Norton, Richard Brake
Written by Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Sara Gruen
One thing that is apparent in watching the first half hour of Water for Elephants is the amount of awe its simple photography inspires. We don’t take our kids to the Circus enough. Following the journey of young Jacob Jankowski (Pattison, with eyes wide open), we see a man who in one knock of the door falls from graduating a veterinarian from Cornell to losing both parents to becoming a carny Vet for a fledgling circus. The person he works for, August Rosenbluth (Waltz), is a wise business man, showing himself a bit on the harsh side. Nonetheless, Josh and August strike a decent working relationship. The spanner in the works, of course, is Mrs. Rosenbluth (Witherspoon). Well, her and Rosie (Tai), a misused female elephant they happen upon in town one stop after losing the previous main attraction,
Things go well until August uses a harsh touch with both females, leaving Jacob to pick up the pieces. After a spooky moment during a show, Rosie runs away. When she gets back, August beats the hell out of her, and then leaves her laying on the ground. Having been told how stupid she is by the previous owners, Jacob keeps finding out how amazing she is. In fact, Rosie even understands Polish language commands. This helps things, for a while.
What happens from here is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer. Waltz is a variation on his Nazi from Inglorious Basterds. Add jealousy to the list of undesirable traits and you have it. Pattison has the wide-eyed wonder and the innocent look that seems naïve at times, wizened at others. He does nothing here to show his burgeoning stardom unwarranted. He still is not as much a draw, as he is a curiosity. Witherspoon as a low-esteemed cheater is a bit tougher sell, if only because I have seen her play assured a bit too often. Like many, one finds it easy to appreciate Holbrook at this stage of his career. None of the last few films he’s been in have been in any way forgettable due to him.
The pacing and the photography are excellent. This is a movie that gives you the feeling of time passing, and still being timeless when you behold the beauty that abounds. It helps when you have characters who are allowed to admire that beauty like Jim Norton’s Camel. The extra characters may not be developed much, but their inclusion helps develop the protagonist, Jacob.
In all, this is a nice, sweet, story covered in layers of abuse of animals and people. See it at your own risk. Most of the scenes are not gratuitous, but still they are hard to watch.
(***1/2 out of ******)