Set during the Great Depression, the story begins with veterinary student Jacob Jankowski (Twilight’s Robert Pattinson) finding a job as caretaker to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth menagerie. On the job he meets Marlena, (Reese Witherspoon) a beautiful equestrian star married to August (Inglourious Basterds’ Christoph Waltz), an abusive animal trainer. He falls in love with her while tending to Rosie, the faltering circus’ 10,000 pound star attraction.
Richard: *** 1/2
RC: Mark, Water for Elephants is told from the point of view of an older man. He’s looking back at the most important years of his life, but at first I wondered why they bothered with this device. Other than giving us a chance to see Hal Holbrook, which is always welcome, it didn’t seem to add much to the story. Then I realized that the story has a warm fuzzy kind of glow that is the result of being told from the point of view of memory and not reality. Does that make sense to you?
MB: Well, it worked for The Notebook, so why not? And it allows the film to sneak in a happy ending, although if even Robert Pattinson winds up looking like Hal Holbrook it’s a reminder that time is indeed cruel. But I enjoyed the movie very much. You, Richard?
RC: I did. It feels a bit old fashioned, which I guess, fits the period of the film. I liked the nostalgic glow. I also liked the performances. Reese Witherspoon looks like she was born to sit atop an elephant, R. Patz gets more action here than in all the Twilight movies combined and Christoph Waltz once again shows he was a way with cruel and unusual characters.
MB: I especially liked the first third of the movie with its exploration of the circus hierarchy and its magical evocation of time and place. But I still think Robert Pattinson feels like a manufactured star even though he acquits himself well in the film. Reese really can top a pachyderm, and if Waltz plays one more villain I’m going to cast him in a Jennifer Aniston rom-com at gunpoint.
RC: The only thing missing from Waltz’s bad guy performance here is his SS uniform from Inglourious Basterds. He really is becoming Hollywood’s guy we love to hate, and he’s good at being bad, but I’d like to see if he can do other things as well. I wouldn’t wish an Aniston rom-com on anyone, but his typecasting is getting old. Pattinson on the other hand proved to me that he can play something other than a lovesick vampire, which, the success of Twilight aside, is kind of limiting career wise.
MB: Only one quibble: early in the picture, we’re told to expect “the worst disaster in circus history.” I expected something of Biblical proportion, but Cecil B. DeMille clearly did not direct this one.