Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Produced by: Kevin Halloran
Andrew R. Tennenbaum
Screenplay by: Richard LaGravenese
Based on: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen
Starring: Robert Pattinson
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cinematography by: Rodrigo Pieto
Editing by: Alan Edward Bell
Studio(s): Fox 2000 Pictures
3 Arts Entertainment
Crazy Horse Pictures
Distributed by: Fox 2000 Pictures
Release date(s): April 22, 2011 (United States)
May 4, 2011 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 120 minutes
Country: United States
Budget: $38 million
Gross revenue (as of publication): $111, 926, 892
When I told you guys I was back in action, I bloody well meant it! In the week or so, I have seen not only this film, but also The Beaver, Swinging With The Finkels and X-Men: First Class. I plan on seeing Kung Fu Panda over the next few days and will be trying to see Green Lantern at some point. This has been one busy week for the reviews, which will be coming in fast and furious (pardon the pun).
So what we have here is Water For Elephants. We are introduced to Jacob Jankowski (Hal Halbrook), who has attended a circus alone, after his son fails to join him. Two circus workers insist on helping him, and Jacob mentions how he was part of the Benzini Circus during the 1931 disaster. Along with Jacob and the circus workers, we go back in time to 1931, where Jacob, at 23, (Robert Pattinson) has been orphaned by his parents dying in a car crash, and after the bank forecloses his home, he leaves school and jumps onto a passing train. He discover the passing train is the Benzini Brothers Circus train, led by August Rosenbluth (Christoph Waltz). Jacob convinces August of his skills as a vet, and gets work tending to the horses that Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the star of the show and August's wife, rides and cares for. After the death of one of the horses, August inspires himself with an idea to bring an elephant by the name of Rosie (Tai the elephant) in as the new star attraction.
To start with what is good about the film, the three leads must be mentioned. Robert Pattinson gets his best role to date in Jacob and rolls with it. In the Twilight films, Edward has always been the least fleshed-out character, and in last year's Remember Me, we saw that Pattinson could handle a meatier role. Here, his presence means more than just that, and through his performance, we feel that this human being exists. Reese Witherspoon, although getting a character that is not as strongly written, shines up the screen as Marlena. Her performance is incredibly well-balanced, and is one of those actresses, as displayed here, who understands the importance of little gestures, sighs and messages. The best performance though is unquestionably that of Christoph Waltz. Although there are certainly similarities between this role and that of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, August is less a caricature and more a human being. He seduces us with his infinite charm, and within seconds can emerge into full-blown rage. It is a credit to Waltz's talents that despite us knowing these psychopathic tendencies, we are still lulled by the snake-charmer. Also, you do feel sorry for this man who is obviously just a damaged, tortured soul, who happens to very creative and in control of a circus. Although the three leads are the film's best sell, good words must also be said about the production design. You really get the impression of a plausible and legitimate world, despite it of course being a period piece. It really gives that wonderful, magical feel that one gets going to the circus. Also, Rodrigo Prieto, a cinematographer who has done some great stuff in the past, adds to this magical feel by giving the film a real glow in it's look. Finally, much of how well the film is made is down to director Francis Lawrence. He has redeemed himself in my eyes, for his previous film I Am Legend was my most disappointing film of 2007 and the namesake for the most disappointing film award in my annual best and worst selections. His input has helped constructively contribute and control the final product that has made it to the screen.
Whilst being a very good film, problems do emerge on occasion from the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese. It is not exactly a bad screenplay, and could be even a good one, but there are issues with it. For starters, although well-done, the film is very predictable and does have a tendency to progress down the line of point's A-to-B without any real deviations. Also, as mentioned, I feel that Reese Witherspoon's character is not as well written as those of Pattinson and Waltz. Another problem with the film is that it is certainly 15-20 minutes too long. More vigilance in the editing room on the part of Alan Edward Bell and Francis Lawrence would have been appropriate.
Despite these problems, I rather liked the film, and over recent contemplation, I'd say that Water For Elephants is the best film that I have seen from 2011. It really gives me the same feeling that I get from watching Golden Age Hollywood films such as On The Waterfront. Yes, it is cliche and too long, but there are some great performances here, with some solid production design and cinematography, and I have been thoroughly convinced of Francis Lawrence's talents as a director.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.8/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very pleased