Hollywood turns to adapting yet another bestselling novel. This time they have set their sights on Sara Gruen’s literary brilliance Water for Elephants. Directed by Francis Lawrence, whose best known directorial credits include Constantine and I Am Legend. As a fanatic fan of the novel I was anxious to see how the book would play out on the big screen.
The film starts with the introduction of an old Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook) retelling his life to a circus manager. The movie than cuts to a younger Jacob (Robert Pattinson) just about to write his final exam at Cornell University in 1931, the exam would make him a veterinarian. Jacob is than told that his parents have died in a car crash. Distraught over the death of his parents and the realization that the bank owns all the family assets, Jacob leaves town. Jacob jumps on a train in an attempt to find work, luckily for him he has jumped on a circus train in which a veterinarian is needed. Jacob is hired to work for the circus under the watchful eye of ringmaster August Rosenbleth (Christolph Waltz). Jacob finds out quickly that life on the road working for a circus during the Great Depression included several hardships.
Lawrence handles the source material in an effective and mature way. The way the film is shot allows the audience to become enveloped into the time of the Great Depression, which is a significant theme in the novel and the film. The audience is able to see how people were desperate for work and those who were in charge were also frantic to save as much money as they could.
Waltz steals the show in this movie. Waltz has had a reputation of being a great villain (Inglorious Basterds). However, in this movie he takes it to a whole different level. The scenes of animal torture performed by Waltz are very brutal which adds to the effectiveness of the movie. Furthermore, following these brutal acts Waltz almost wins the audience back with his earnestness.
Lawrence is able to capture the craziness of the climax of the novel. The last act of the film is shot in a fascinating way. I cannot go into too much detail without spoiling too much. However, anytime you cage dangerous animals and abuse them, if they have an opportunity to exact revenge than they will.
Pattinson takes the same role in each one of his movies. The idea of the brooding and troubled young man and it is beginning to become irritating. Pattinson is the biggest standout in this film and not in a good way. Although he is showing signs of becoming an improved actor he is still not ready to hold his own on the screen. This is made even more obvious because he is forced to compete with Waltz in what are supposed to be tense filled moments.
The biggest and most unfortunate change from the book to the film is that the movie focuses too much on the love triangle between Pattinson, Waltz and Marlena Rosenbluth (Reese Witherspoon). The novel was more of a mystery and the screen adaptation focuses more on the love story. By taking the mystery element out of the film, the movie drags and the middle become tedious. Moreover, Pattinson and Witherspoon have no magnetism between one another. When the audience is unable to believe that the love could exist than the relationship becomes pointless.
All in all the film adaptation of the novel does work. The atmosphere of the Great Depression is brought to the forefront and is the centerpiece of the movie. This atmosphere is haunting and appealing. The movie’s love story brings the film down and prevents me from loving it. Furthermore, being a huge fan of the book my expectations were higher. Hardcore fans of the novel might be turned off by some of the glaring changes (the focus on the love story). Pattinson although a proficient actor still needs to work on his screen presence. Waltz’s performance as well as a competently directed final act makes this movie good but not great. The film does not hold the emotional depth like the novel but there are enough good things about the movie for me to recommend it.