“Water for Elephants” Movie Review

4/22/2011 Posted by Admin

“Water for Elephants” Movie Review

Directed by Frances Lawrence, Written by Richard LaGravenese and Sara Gruen (book), 122 minutes, Rated PG-13.

By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz

Frances Lawrence sure knows how to put on a show--well, at least capture one. Wrangling some of the world’s most famous and talented actors and filming with lustrous charm, the director puts on a beautiful spectacle. However, while the film looks fantastic, its stars lack the connection needed to make this circus a true marvel.

After sudden tragedy kicks Jacob (Robert Pattinson) out of his house, the once-hardworking veterinary student hits the rails and meets up with a traveling circus. In need of a vet, August (Christoph Waltz), the show's owner, hires the vagabond to train their new showstopper, a 52-year-old elephant named Rosie. Despite not knowing how to train animals, Jacob accepts, but finds his position in jeopardy when he falls for the show’s main attraction and August’s wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).

“Water for Elephants” is certainly a beautiful film. Lawrence’s depiction of both the great depression and a traveling circus pushes forth his romantic interpretation of the bygone era. His look exists somewhere between the sheen of 1940s classic Hollywood, with some nods to the grime of John Ford and the extravagance of Orson Wells. Unfortunately, the director doesn’t gain their storytelling strengths as well.

Lawrence frames his film in the old-man-recollecting narrative, and the problems start there. Not even the great Hal Holbrook can spark a connection with his screen partner Paul Schneider, who couldn’t look more bored. Holbrook plays the elder Jacob, and his problem with Schneider appears to be a lifelong affliction. Pattinson, who plays young Jacob, is too distant to be an engaging protagonist, and it shows in his lifeless romance with Witherspoon.

Jacob’s story of a boy who runs away and joins the circus is really the least engaging part of the film. His quarrels with August and affair with Marlena pail in comparison to Lawrence’s circus, which is elegant and romantic. Much of this is the result of Pattinson’s coy performance, which brought him instant fame in the “Twilight Saga,” but fails him here. Lawrence needs a ring leader to draw in crowds. Pattinson, on the other hand, couldn’t be more distant.

“Water for Elephants” isn’t a bad film. Lawrence has a decent story and a great eye for capturing it. Witherspoon, with her delicate movements and some soft lighting, has a great classic Hollywood feel, while Waltz, as always, gives an emotionally complicated performance. But the star, the person we’re supposedly interested in following, that confused looking veterinarian on the screen, couldn’t be less interested in entertaining us.

Grade: C+

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes


  1. Janet said...

    I can't wait to go see this.

  2. Anonymous said...

    ha.. i just knew that! i had NO doubt critics would bring Twilight as far as RP is concerned. The Movie that changed the world, made it a better place for millions of fans, is SO hated by blind, boring and bored people, especially by some jealous men, G-d bless their heart.jealous, jealous, don't deny it..it's not easy to live up to the high expectations being yourself at the same time. get over his success, forgive him already the fame, beauty, money, women adoration. just like that, some people have it all doing nothing for it while others try hard their whole life...here i said it at least once:)

  3. Anonymous said...

    "His quarrels with August and affair with Marlena pail in comparison to Lawrence’s circus, which is elegant and romantic. "

    RPatz seemed an odd choice for the lead, especially when paired with Reese Witherspoon.

    Have yet to see the film, but this description is pretty much what I expected after seeing the trailer (though I think you mean 'pale' in comparison...)

  4. Kristine said...

    I read the book and couldn't wait to see the movie even tho most movies cannot stand up to the book. Water For Elephants wasn't perfect but like the rest of the audience I found it amazing. You could have heard a pin drop from a mixed age and gender audience except when applause broke out over Rosie's revenge. Young actor's like young critics have to grow or they become self important pmpous*****! In a state where Bear Baiting is a favored sport and whoopy pies a staple maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by your cattiness!

  5. Chloe said...

    Cue the haters. Right, anonymous 1:09 am? This movie is one nice vehicle out of the Twilight zone for Rob. Hoo-f'ing-ray. And I love Twilight, but the guy is almost 25 - get him out of the PG-13 level already!! Relegating WFE to PG-13 was wrong. It ruined the movie.

    The novel was not one of my favorites - I dislike circuses (and zoos) - and I only read the book after Rob got the part. It's seemed like such an implausible concept - an Ivy League vet falling for the main attraction in a circus. Seriously? I don't care if it was the depression. IMO, more believable to meet a handsome, reluctant vampire in your high school biology class! But Jacob is portrayed as being so green and naive in the book that maybe, just maybe, he could be believable. While there's a lot lacking in the film as a film for me, it really started with the book being a stretch. Add to that a weak script which failed to convey the spark and chemistry between Marlena and either man, and theirs with her. The pace was sluggish in places. The trailer had more spice in it than the finished product. Francis Lawrence, having found the actor he thought epitomized Jacob in his natural state, then may have failed to direct Rob sufficiently, instead perhaps relying on Rob to just be himself, which is not what the movie (or Rob) needed.

    Despite this, I have seen the movie twice so far, and will probably see it a couple more times. My fellow filmgoers yesterday and today seemingly responded quite positively to it, some clapping at the end, some remaining quietly seated into the credits.

    I immensely look forward to Cosmopolis. I love Don DeLillo's writing anyway. Rob working with Cronenberg on this project should provide another substantial leap into a healthy career. He is by far the most interesting actor to come along in Hollywood in decades. And I'm not talking about his looks.

  6. Anonymous said...

    Matthew Schimkowitz: if you're going to be a critic at least learn how to spell correctly "His quarrels with August and affair with Marlena pail in comparison to Lawrence’s circus, which is elegant and romantic." PAIL? It's spelled P-A-L-E lol

    This movie is doing very well at the box office this weekend...your negative comments about it and Rob Pattinson did little to deter the general public in seeing the movie. Too bad you didn't choose to see Rob as Jacob Jankowski and not Edward Cullen...you might have been more "entertained".

  7. Atlanta Roofing said...

    Rob can definitely act. I can’t wait to see Water For Elephants – i think he will be very good in it. Some critics have said so. Don’t understand the haters. He seems like such a nice guy. Never in the news for rude spoiled Hollywood behavior. Don’t get the hate at all. Love Rob and hope Water for Elephants is a HUGE success.