I’ll begin by stating that in order to write this, I have put all preconceived notions of Robert Pattinson behind me.
With that said, I thought this was the most emotionally exhausting movie since Harry Potter 7 Part 1 came out in September—I loved every second of it.
“Water for Elephants” begins with an elderly Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson) reminiscing to a visiting circus manager about his days with the Benzini Brothers Circus, and his part in the “infamous circus disaster of 1931.” In his flashback, the core of the movie, he is about to graduate as a vet at Cornell when disaster strikes him, leaving him orphaned and his home repossessed. He plans to run away to the city in search of a job, stopping for the night by the train tracks. Little does he know what adventures lie in store for him when he decides to hop the Benzini Brothers train in search of work.
As an adoring fan of the book by Sara Gruen, I was extremely satisfied that the director, Francis Lawrence, stuck nearly directly to the plot. While he did take out the character of Uncle Al, the circus owner, he had him with Christopher Waltz’s character August, the ringmaster, also fill in this role. This character switch managed to eradicate any major plot discrepancies between the book and the film.
This might be the role that separates Pattinson from his label as the “Twilight Guy.” I’m extremely pleased to inform you that there was no sparkling in this film other than the costumes worn by Reese Witherspoon, who plays Pattinson’s love interest in the film, named Marlena Rosenbluth.
While Witherspoon and Pattinson gave convincing performances, the true star of this film is Waltz, playing the paranoid-schizophrenic ringmaster and Marlena’s husband. Portraying such a character is no easy feat, and Waltz pulled it off perfectly. Although carrying out monstrous acts of abuse against his wife, animals, and employees, he is still a sympathetic character since he is always regretful after his tirades. His passionate performance carried the film and really preserved the emotional ride found in the book.
I laughed. I cried, loudly, until the elderly couple next to me started giving me dirty looks. “Water for Elephants” was a truly moving film and I implore you to find the time to see it.
When Reese Witherspoon said her first line in her first scene of the movie, all I could think was “bend, and snap!”. With her light and airy voice and Robert Pattinson’s gaunt and serious expressions, I wasn’t convinced that these actors were right for the roles of such a deep movie. But as the movie progressed, I was exposed to a deeper side of Reese, one that fit the part of Marlena well. Surprisingly, I wasn’t as annoyed with Robert Pattinson playing the main role as I had expected to be. He somehow shed his dark “I want to suck your blood” look and took on a lighter, schoolboy disposition complete with a genuine grin and softened expressions.
Though the movie followed the story line of the book quite impressively, there was one thing that the movie didn’t touch on: the point of view from Jacob Jankowski as an old man in a nursing home. The book is mostly Jacob’s life with the circus, but it’s interrupted occasionally by brief chapters containing the story of Jacob as a 90 year old in a nursing home. While the circus story is a mesmerizing one, the tale of Jacob’s life in a nursing home is downright original and insightful. These short chapters describe what goes on in his nursing home: the nurses, the old ladies gossip, and his kids coming to visit.
The book uses vivid details to describe all of the events on the circus train from chores to drinking; the movie mirrors those through film. Watching the men live the circus life sleeping on cots and cleaning elephant manure was remarkably almost as good as reading the words.
Overall, I was impressed with the movie. It’s hard to turn a book as good as “Water For Elephants” with a setting that unique into a solid movie. Despite all the positive things, the book is still better. The movie is worth the watch— I just hope you’ll read the book first.