Movie:  Water for Elephant

Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz and Tai the elephant.

Jagran rating:    (Average)

Story Line: The movie is based on spellbinding best seller Novel by Sara Gruen. 

The film is about traveling circuses, and the often audacious and ruthless people who work in them, used to be relatively commonplace in American movies and it could be that the newness of seeing such a troupe, traveling from one town to another on a train with dozens of performers, workers and lots of animals in tow, might be enough to captivate a fair share of people today, just as Gruen's 2006 novel did.

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Through this film viewers are taken back to 1931, where a young, handsome, smart and dedicated Jacob Jankowaski (Robert Pattinson) is preparing for his finals at Cornell University.

He wants to be a veterinary just like his father, take over his practice, and become the provider for this tight and loving Polish-American family. And then life happens, which prevents events from going down this very predictable path.

The death of his parents in a car accident sends Jacob out into the world, with no specific goal in mind. He hops on a cargo in the middle of the night – and instantly finds himself on the train that takes “the most extravagant extravaganza, the greatest show on earth,” the Benzini Bros. Circus, all across America.

In almost the next second, the confused (but still just as handsome) Jacob is introduced to the painstaking caste system that rules this world he’s never heard of, he meets the workers, the freaks and, last but not least, the owner and his gorgeous wife.

August (Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz) part is gentleman, brute, and by far the most complex and captivating character in the film.

Endowed with a charming smile that guarantees he always comes out the winner and cursed with a fiery temper that he does little to control, he’s so menacing yet attractive that it’s almost hard to pry one’s eyes off the screen whenever he’s on it.

Because he believes people and animals are disposable and respond only to violence, he rules the circus with an iron fist – “no one dies until August says so,” viewers hear.

He’s also fiercely protective and jealous of anyone even looking at his wife – and, it would seem, he has every reason to be so.

Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) is the star attraction of the show her horse and, later on, elephant number is the sole reason why the circus is still standing, and August would rather kill her than face the idea of losing her.

She was saved, plucked from poverty by this cruel man whom she obeys blindly because he’s given her so much, and, we assume, it’s her sense of gratefulness that keeps her by his side long after it becomes clear that he’s not good to her.

Gratefulness though goes out the window when young, kind-hearted and passionate Jacob comes in the picture. Because of his experience with animals, he’s in a privileged position with ringmaster August, who takes turns in tormenting and mentoring him, and is as if pushing him towards Marlena.

As such, it’s almost no wonder the two fall in love – especially after they get to bond over Rosie, a 9000-pound elephant who only understands Polish and who’s meant to become the act that will save the circus from going belly up.

Though the circus world was, at the time, one of the harshest and cruelest places on earth, just as it was one of the most fascinating, awe-inspiring places, there’s little of either in “Water for Elephants.”

Thumbs Up: With ‘Water for Elephant’ Christoph Waltz character named August is so frantic and compelling, he makes everyone and everything pale by comparison. He proves that no better actor than him by acting such a bad guy in this film.

Bought on a whim as a present for Marlena, Rosie the Elephant (played impeccably by Tai, also an elephant) becomes the Benzini Brothers' (and the film's) main attraction, performing delightful balancing tricks, loosening her shackles to filch crafty slurps of lemonade and, of course, doing the old "spray the bad guy with a trunk full of water" routine (the old ones are the best).

Rosie also becomes central to the love triangle - you could say she forms a love square - and come the end, plays a decisive role, despite having a strictly nonspeaking part.

Thumbs Down: Witherspoon, likewise, doesn't seem comfortable in her character's coat (despite some impressive dressage and gymnastics with the horses).The chemistry between her and Pattinson is not so much zesty due to the age factor between them.

Lawrence compromised and made it into a lustrous, rather shallow and soulless narrative, from which viewers will probably take very little when they leave the theater.

‘Water for Elephant’ is not so extraordinary but it does shows some true brilliance moment. The good news is that Hollywood is still perfectly able to make a movie that, at the very least, aims to be different.

(*Bad,**Disappointing,***Average ,****Good,*****Excellent)