Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Water for Elephants
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, James Frain, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider, Ken Foree, Tim Guinee, Mark Povinelli, Scott MacDonald
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer: Sara Gruen, Richard LaGravenese
Running Time: 122 min.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
CINEMA rating: R 14 (For audiences aged 14 and up)
In 1931, Jacob (Robert Pattinson) is a regular guy with dreams of having a happy family life as a veterinarian like his dad. About to take his final exams at Cornell University that would earn him his license as a veterinary doctor, he is dealt a blow by life when his parents die in a car accident. He discovers that they have left neither cash nor home for him since they had mortgaged their house in order to give him an Ivy League college education. The bank now owns everything. Distraught, Jacob decides to leave the house without looking back. He is determined to leave behind his house, his past and his dreams, although he does not know where to go and what to do. He just wants to get away, and so he hops a train, unaware it is the traveling Benzini Brothers circus. After a minor scuffle that almost gets him thrown off the train, Jacob is taken in to do odd jobs like shoveling the cars clean of animal manure to earn his keep. He is soon bewitched by Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the circus star and wife of the travelling show’s mean big boss August (Christoph Waltz).
Directed by Francis Lawrence (I am Legend and Constantine) with screenplay written by Richard LaGravenese and based on a novel by Sarah Gruen, Water for Elephants is an extremely watchable film that has the power to take the viewer by hand to a world all its own. The sets, the costumes, even the smallest props are meticulously prepared and chosen to bring about a nostalgic feel to every frame, creating not only a charming but also an enchanting period movie.
Part of its appeal, particularly to the young at heart, is its circus environment. Who wouldn’t be entertained by animals dressed up and trained for tricks that delight young and old alike? And to see these intelligent animals off stage and interacting with humans—that’s certainly an experience few would pass up even if only in the movies. Any Filipino who has ever wondered how the local feria at town fiestas magically sprouts up in a few hours can find charming answers just watching how the Benzini circus hands put up their big top as if it’s almost a ritual.
Waltz is perfectly cast as the circus owner August, exhibiting the same strengths that made for his award-winning performance as Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. With a face so mobile it can switch back and forth between charismatic and tyrannical in a split-second, Waltz’s villainous portrayal defies prediction—one never knows what he’ll do next, giving the movie its much needed tension.
Pattinson and Witherspoon are also the best choices for their roles—Pattinson out of his vampire mold combines intensity and gentleness, while Witherspoon deviates from happy roles to play a small town girl who endures her husband because the circus is “the only place (she) can be somebody.” Despite a few critics who claim the two actors lack chemistry, director Lawrence is correct in keeping the illicit passion between them on slow burn—otherwise the love angle would overwhelm the other elements that make the movie worth watching even by younger audiences.
Indeed, Water for Elephants is not a love story at all; it is more about kindness—the abundance or lack of it in people—and the dynamics of cruelty and poetic justice. It’s about the intelligence of beasts. That could be the reason behind this old-fashioned film’s endurance at the box office—at a time when movies bring to life fictitious superheroes through CGI, Water for Elephants has remained—now back to back with the lords of spectacular special effects Thor, The Priest, Fast and Furious 5—signaling a return to real people in real situations in real life.