About the film
Water For Elephants is a 2011 romantic drama film that was based on the novel of the same name, written by Sara Gruen. The film is 120 minutes long and is rated 12A due to scenes of intense violence and a sexual nature. It was distributed by 20th Century Fox and after having a budget of $38 million, it has gone on to make over $117 million at the box office.
During the Great Depression, Jacob Jankowski's parents are killed during his final exam where he was training to be a vet. After being told of his father's massive debts, the house is sold and Jacob is left with nothing and no longer feels like he wants to carry on with his education. While trying to find himself a new life, Jacob happens to jump on the train of the Benzini Brothers Circus where he meets performer Marlena and her husband, head of the circus, August. After saying that he has studied veterinary science at Cornell, Jacob is hired as the circus' vet.
As he spends more time with Marlena and the circus, he realises that everything is not as it should be. August is not a nice man and treats both animals and people with disrespect, something that Jacob doesn't agree with at all. It's all on him to save the woman he loves and the circus from a terrible fate.
What I thought
Outside of Twilight, Robert Pattinson is actually a pretty decent actor. Who would have thought it possible? Certainly not me. However, I did quite like him in Remember Me as well. Pattinson plays the role of Jacob, a man who loses everything and has to start over. Immediately I felt sorry for Jacob and wanted him to find his feet again. I really enjoyed how his story began as it showed him as an old man, wanting to get back the feeling of his youth. Pattinson brings a youthful cockiness to someone that I think would have been pretty timid otherwise. At the same time though, Jacob comes across as quite innocent but charming. Jacob is maybe a little naive but only due to his lack of life experience at the beginning of the film. Pattinson manages to mix all of these personality traits together really well and makes his character likeable because of them.
Reese Witherspoon plays love interest and an act in the circus, Marlena. She seems to be an actress who can pull off any role and hers in Water For Elephants is no different. Playing Marlena meant that Witherspoon had to do stunts that involved some of the animals. I have no idea when/ if she changed with a stunt double but the scenes of this nature were extremely impressive. Marlena was a character that I could immediately connect with, considering she was in a relationship she couldn't get away from. The characters that Witherspoon normally plays are likeable and that is no exception here. I couldn't help but feel sorry for her and wish for a good outcome.
Playing Marlena's husband August is Christopher Waltz. As villains go, he could have been much better. While he does a good job of being an arsehole, he isn't amazing at it either. I didn't like his character but I didn't completely hate him either and I should have. August is a character who thinks he is right at all times and doesn't like to be proved wrong so his arrogance showed through all of the time. There were times during the film where you could see there was a lot more to him than meets the eye but this wasn't shown nearly enough. I would have loved to have found out what was really going on in his head but I guess this wasn't done so that the audience didn't end up liking him at all.
So what else is there in this film apart from the amazing cast? A lot actually. As the plot surrounds the Benzini Brothers Circus, the majority of scenes are from here. For me, the circus has always been a really exciting and interesting event to go to and I wondered how this one would be shown. Director Francis Lawrence does an amazing job and the film is visually stunning in every way possible. The scenes at the circus are truly exceptional, showing both what happens in the tent and out of it. The actual acts at the circus aren't shown very much at all and when they are, the scenes focus more on Marlena and what she can do. That being said, what glimpses I did get to see were impressive. Here, I have to mention the animals. There are some scenes which can be disturbing concerning animal cruelty in circuses during the time period but I think they were done in the right context and obviously, no animals would have actually been hurt during filming.
The costume and set design are really what make this film so special though. In contrast to the workers at the circus, who wear earthy colours and look very drab, the main characters look wonderful. As the ring leader, August is dressed in wonderful stiff shirts, clean and classic trousers along with more extravagant items like smoking jackets and of course, his circus outfit. Marlena gets two different looks really – her performance outfits which consist of next to nothing leotards covered in glitter and sparkle but also her non work outfits. For this, she gets to wear some amazing clothes making her look smart, sophisticated but also a kept woman at times.
While there is so much about this film that is wonderful, it also has things that are bad. As I said earlier, the film begins with Jacob as an old man and here is where I had a problem. Yes, I know it is the beginning of the film but here is why: Jacob explains what he wants and why and then certain things are said which pretty much gives away the whole plot. Within the first five minutes, my hopes had been shattered and I figured out a lot of what was going to happen. Had this not have happened so early on, I wouldn't have minded. After this, the plot wasn't a surprise t me at all which was very unfortunate.
Without the terrible opening, Water for Elephants is a great film.