Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Jim Norton, Hal Holbrook and Mark Povinelli
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay by: Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Sara Gruen
Time: 120 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

OSCAR-POWER: Christoph Waltz and Reese Witherspoon in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

PREAMBLE: It is just as well that the makers of this movie hired Oscar-calibre stars the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz to play the leads here. Anything less and the cast would be out-staged by a talented elephant called 'Rosie'.

In fact in the novel by Sara Gruen, Rosie has a deeper and more expansive role, adding to the symbolic and emotional tone of the novel. Still, the approach by script-writer Richard LaGravenese to simplify the plot and galvanise the love triangle to fit the two-hour footage of the movie is laudable too, given the complexities of the novel's storyline.

SYNOPSIS: The story is narrated by a 90-plus nursing home inmate named Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook) who recalls his circus days during the Great Depression. Jacob, then a penniless and recently-orphaned veterinary school student (played by Robert Pattinson), joins the Benzini Brothers Circus by accident.

He puts his expertise with animals into good use at the travelling circus owned by the volatile and unbalanced August (Waltz). Soon Jacob falls in love with Marlena (Witherspoon), August's wife and one of the show's star performers. Their relationship thickens when August buys Rosie the pachyderm - with which Jacob and Marlena must work together to create a new circus act.

THE REVIEW: The Benzini Brothers Circus travels from place to place by train - and director Francis Lawrence captures the poverty-stricken mood of the Depression and its characters pretty well. It is obvious that Lawrence has taken great pains to make the atmosphere realistic - adding colour and charm to the clandestine romance between Jacob and Marlena. Pattinson's sullen but sensitive performance is a lot more palatable here than in Twilight - thanks partly to Witherspoon who is solid as a woman caught between her loyalty to her husband and her desire for love and freedom. The audience, especially the women, would feel her dilemma, even though Lawrence opts to be vague and coy with the love scene.

Of course, besides the show-stealing elephant, Waltz is commanding in every scene he appears in. He appears to be able to turn on different emotions at the drop of a hat - from sincerity and tenderness to mounting suspicion and explosive jealousy. Others in the cast, like Jim Norton as the drunkard Camel, help to add variety to the circus folks credibly.

THE LOWDOWN: A satisfying period love story.


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