Best Movies of All Time + [Water for Elephants]

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS-13

Water for Elephants is a 2011 dramatic romance film directed by Francis Lawrence that centers around the final rise and fall of a circus during the Great Depression. When his father and mother are killed in a car accident, Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) abandons his veterinary studies at Cornell University and sets foot for the big city to find work. One night, he stumbles across a railroad track and stows aboard a passing train. In the morning, he learns that the train houses the very livelihood of the Benzini Brothers circus. Jacob is immediately impressed and seeks employment doing whatever he can to earn a living. He catches the eye of the circus's rash, and sometimes violent, ringleader August (Christoph Waltz) after telling him of his training as a veterinarian; August decides to hire him as the circus's full-time vet. Jacob meets August's wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) who stars as the main attraction in the circus's lineup. As time passes, Jacob and Marlena start to grow fond of one another, sending August into consistent states of fury. When he happens upon an elephant, August purchases the creature in the hopes that it can bring more revenue for the circus. He enlists Jacob to train the animal and Marlena to star alongside it, bringing the two ever closer until their affections towards one another is no longer deniable.

The story starts off well enough, with an elderly Jacob (played by Hal Holbrook) stumbling upon a modern circus. When he's seated with the circus manager, he begins to recant the tale of the disaster surrounding the Benzini Brothers circus, and the rest of the film serves as his flashback. Generally speaking, I'm not much for the concept of "the whole movie is a flashback" because I feel like I've seen it so many times before, and it's gotten a little cliché. With this film, however, I feel like it works a little bit better, although I'm not entirely sure why. The screenplay itself is relatively strong, and it does just enough to keep you intertwined with the story and the characters. There are moments that are going to pull at your heartstrings (especially if you're an animal lover like myself - you all should probably be forewarned of some animal cruelty presented in the film), and those moments alone make the movie all the more endearing. At times, it's a little difficult to watch (for those aforementioned animal lovers), but the lead characters are so likable that they make everything seem all right.

We're given a relatively good cast that works well with the material. I have not seen any of the Twilight films, so my vision of Pattinson's acting ability has not yet been muddied. Truth be told, I've only seen him in a few other films (2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and 2010's Remember Me), so I still don't have much of a feel for him as an actor. I thought he did well with his role here, but there wasn't anything spectacular about his portrayal. The best compliment I could probably give him was that his Jacob felt like a real person, and ultimately, that's probably what every actor hopes to achieve with their character. Witherspoon is also decent, but she hasn't come close to hitting her Oscar-winning performance in 2005's Walk the Line since that film; still, she's serviceable here. The real praise should go to Waltz who has his first legitimate role since winning the Academy Award for Inglourious Basterds (I'm sure we can forgive and forget that tremendously bad bit in The Green Hornet, right?). He plays a fantastic madman who has no control over his issues with anger, and every time he's on-screen, you're just waiting for him to lose it again. My only fear is that he's starting to be typecast as a villain or antagonist - I personally would love to see him as a good guy at some point. Oh, and Holbrook is quite the revelation in his limited amount of screen-time. If you're looking for an emotional and spirited performance in this film, you need not look past him.

I also found the film's musical score to be quite well-done, so I'd like to tip my hat to James Newton Howard for creating it. He's always been a favorite of mine, and he definitely does well here.

I'm going to be honest: when I first saw the trailers for this film, I wasn't entirely impressed and had no real desire to go see it. However, considering this weekend's other major releases (Madea's Big Happy Family and African Cats), I figured this would probably be my best shot at seeing something relatively entertaining. And although I wasn't entirely blown away, I'd have to say that Water for Elephants is definitely a solid film that's worth giving a gander if you've got some time for a romantic drama.

Movie Review Summary:Grade: B-
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