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Water For Elephants

Submitted by Commandrea on April 22, 2011 – 1:07 amNo Comment
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A beautiful story wonderfully told and shot with precision Water For Elephants unfolds in a circus during the Depression era. This is old-fashioned movie making of the best kind. The canvas opens up wide for spectacular shots of circus spectacle and trains in the middle of the night, but also gets intimate in the way that only close-ups can.
Director Francis Lawrence paces events with just the right amount of surprise and cliché. It’s a circus with elephants and dwarfs; we expect certain things like intrigue behind the big top, yet a sense of discovery lurks around each and every tent. Lawrence never betrays the fact his previous films are genre sci-fi pieces like I Am Legend and Constantine. I also have to note the cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto and the sense of depth it provides to the story.
In a semi-contemporary sequence that brackets the main action, an old man (Hal Holbrook) has run away from his nursing home and stands alone at night in the parking lot of a circus. As he recounts his story to a friendly circus manager (Paul Schneider) the scene shifts to the early 1930s. A young veterinarian student (Robert Pattinson as Jacob Jankowski) on the verge of graduation drops out of Cornell on the eve of his parent’s death in an auto accident. Wandering along train tracks he jumps a train, which happened to be a circus train. We meet striking and unique characters like the diminutive Walter, or a crusty old man called Camel. The circus owner August (Christoph Waltz) runs a tight ship and isn’t above having employees thrown off the train by force while it’s moving, a terminal act to the victim, simply because he doesn’t want to pay them their salary. August’s wife Marlena (Reece Witherspoon), obviously much younger but with her status as the star attraction of the circus a bit untouchable to everyone else, puts up with August’s violent mood swings and ill treatment of animals. August hires Jacob as the circus vet and complications ensue when Marlena and Jacob commence an affair. While this all may sound quite melodramatic it’s presented in a very linear and sober fashion.
The characters are rather symbolic than three-dimensional; wounded idealistic young lad, woman in touch with nature and the despotic husband who rages between eloquence and tyranny. When the film finally concludes with Holbrook as the 90-ish Jacob he delivers such a powerful performance you realize he’s doing the acting for everyone else in the cast.
- Michael Bergeron

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