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FILM REVIEW: Water for Elephants


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Set in 1931 amidst the Great Depression, Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob Jankowski, a young man struck by tragedy, who literally runs away and joins the circus before foolishly or not, embarking on an unexpected romance with the ringleader’s wife.

The Oscar winning star cast is impressive. Reminiscent of a young Leonardo DiCaprio, there is definitely more to Robert Pattinson (Twilight) than drippy, brooding vampires. While Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) glitters as Marlena, the troubled star performer and downtrodden wife of ringleader, Auguste.

However, Water For Elephants irrefutably belongs to Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) though he does have a tough time competing with the magnificent Tai the elephant (Larger than Life) who proves a challenge for anyone to share screen time with. Waltz manages to generate both loathing and sympathy for the menacing (but somehow charming?) Auguste. At times it defies belief he is even reading off the same script as the rest of the film. It could have been easy to craft an archetypal, stock villain, but Waltz weaves the character of Auguse so masterfully, his abilities as an actor are magnetising. There is much more to come from this man, if anything makes Water for Elephants a must see, it is Christoph Waltz.

The film’s shortcomings arise mainly from the absence of honest chemistry between Pattinson and Witherspoon. Although both are undeniably beautiful to look at (all enhanced by the soft lens and incredible lighting, thanks to superb cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain)), they lack the vital spark which could have made Water for Elephants something truly magical.

The ending and framework of ‘old man tells story in series of flashbacks’ is lazy and leaves the film little to cling on to but some good looking cinematography and even better looking stars. I fear Francis Lawrence may have been going for Titanic on dry land, but ended up with a nice cuddly piece of Hollywood escapism, but nothing truly memorable.

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