Movie Review: Water for Elephants (2011)

Posted: April 8, 2012 in Drama, Romance


It is the 1930’s and despite the Depression, Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) has a life full of promise.  He’s going to Cornell University and studying veterinary medicine.  Just as suddenly, everything was taken away from Jacob when his parents died.  He hopped on a train, and joined the Benzini circus, unofficially. The owner of the circus, August (Christoph Waltz) didn’t exactly want or need a freeloader joining his circus, but when Jacob tells August, he’s a vet, August lets Jacob stay on the train.  Jacob’s first job was to look at an ailing horse. The horse was the circus’ main attraction, and the horse’s rider Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) is August’s wife.  The horse has to be put down, and Jacob does it in front of Marlena.  August is not happy about losing his star attraction, and almost throws Jacob off the train, but keeps him on because he actually prevented Marlena from falling from a dangerous horse.  August gets an elephant for Marlena to ride as part of a new act. Despite getting an elephant, and training for a new act, Marlena knows she is trapped on a loveless cruel marriage.  Marlena finds herself growing closer to Jacob, while August keeps an ever watchful if controlling eye on Malrlena.  Do Marlena and Jacob act on their feelings?  If they do, how does August react?

This movie is an example of tragic miscasting.  The story is ok, if you like the book, I wasn’t crazy about the book, but millions of people did like the book, so it had a built in audience.  The setting of a circus in Depression era America  is whimsical and illustrated perfectly in the movie. It tries to be like titanic and fails, because Titanic was done on a much grander scale, and Leo and Kate are much better actors than Reese and Robert.  So what went wrong?  Simply put, the casting of Reese Witherspoon as the love interest was all wrong.  I know producers needed a big name to sell this movie, but Pattinson paired with a younger actress could have sold tickets,  Pattinson is a box office draw, especially after the Twilight movies, if he was paired like Kristin Stewart, the acting may have suffered but there would have been some onscreen chemistry.  Instead, you have Witherspoon desperately trying to look younger, by applying tons of makeup and dying her hair, bleached blonde. Her acting has never quite strayed from the California Valley Girl character that she made famous in the Legally Blonde movies, and there’s evidence of the Valley Girl here too. Pattinson is ok, he drops his American accent a few times and when he tries to emote, the results are not good, but he does a serviceable job. Christoph Waltz does a great job as August, the sly, conniving, jealous, possessive owner of the circus.  His performance makes the movie tolerable.  Hal Holbrook gives a great performance, in a cameo as the older Jacob.  This makes Pattinson’s performance worse by comparison.

Water for Elephants.  All wet.


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