‘Water for Elephants’ is a most spectacular show

“Life is the Most Spectacular Show on Earth” 

     The 1930s, depression-era circus drama ‘Water for Elephants’ (based on the novel by Sara Gruen) is a spectacle, one so unforgettable it may just be the “most spectacular show on earth.”  After learning of the death of his parents during his final veterinary exams at Cornell University, Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) joins the traveling Benzini Brothers circus as their veterinarian.  The grandeur that is the circus becomes interwoven with intimate, private moments in a breathtakingly compelling, brilliant film from director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine).

When Jacob becomes acquainted with the circus’ ringmaster and boss, August (Christoph Waltz), he learns that like a coin there are two sides of August, who will stop at nothing to assert his dominance at the expense of others.  Enter Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the star attraction, in more ways than one.  Wife of August, Marlena and Jacob forge a forbidden love, riddled and lined with danger.  The result is a gripping journey that tests the powers of love and humanity. 

‘Water for Elephants’ is ultimately a love story full of triumph, heartbreak and tragedy, but strikes perfect harmony when combining the roles (that were perfectly cast) with realistic and believable acting.  In fact, it’s difficult to critique anything about any of the performances as Waltz, Pattinson and Witherspoon are flawless in their characterizations.  Waltz portrays a pathological, temperamental dominant male character, opposite the genteel natures of Witherspoon (who stars with the horses and later, Rosie the elephant) and Pattinson’s characters.  A testament to their embodiment of the roles is evident through the viewer identifying them as characters, not actors – meaning you refer to them subconsciously by their character names Jacob, August and Marlena.

Of course, the total embodiment likely had some to do with the wonderful costuming by Jacqueline West (who previously designed for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network).  Really, the ambience of the 1930s is truly brought to life by this entire production as a collaborative effort, not one area was lacking.  The acting, homage to 30s music, costuming, original score, set design, cinematography and art direction are seamlessly combined through continuous, fluid editing.  ‘Water for Elephants’ was extremely well made and won’t disappoint any part of a viewer’s sensory reception.  It’s as if for the duration of the film, the viewer is an integrated witness to these moments, it is pure escapism at its finest.

      There are scenes of violence, sex, intrigue and then there are scenes of whispers, gentility and majestic beauty providing a solid balance of contrast, which is necessary for a film to thrive.  ‘Water for Elephants’ can easily be likened to films like Titanic, The Notebook and Big Fish through its storytelling model of an older version of a character sharing a retrospective of the past – a proven method for success.  The film really is a spectacle and a very nice, beautiful story at the core, filled with touching moments from beginning to end.

Basically what comes of this two-hour film, rated PG-13, are memories that a viewer may feel like they’ve known for a lifetime – as if a circus they witnessed in the past was happening in front of their very eyes – and then they get the “behind the scenes” life as well.  The film is intimate, spectacular, moving, nostalgic and beautiful whose true heroes are Robert Pattinson (who will come away from this as a legitimate leading man and bigger heart-throb) and the elephant, “Rosie.”

Grade:  A+ 



1.  I could rave about this continuously, I loved this film, ‘Water for Elephants’ fulfilled and exceeded my expectations, that I had been building up since November when I saw the fist trailer with Black Swan.  It is definitely one of my new favorite films of all time – I cannot emphasize enough how brilliant I think it is and how well-made, seamless and personal it was created to be.  Bravo!

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