Adapting books to the big screen is one of the oldest practices in the movie industry. It goes back to the very birth of the motion picture. Literary based movies have come a long way since that time. Some are good, and some simply aren’t so good. And then there are those that kind of wade about in the limbo between the two extremes. Water For Elephants is one of those movies that is in the middle somewhere. By no means is it the worst movie of 2011. But it isn’t the year’s best, either. The success of Water for Elephants is based more on the cast than on the movie’s story.
The central story of Water for Elephants is based around a love triangle between young veterinarian-to-be, Jacob (played by Twilight star Robert Pattinson), August (Christoph Waltz), the vile ringmaster of the circus that Jacob joins, and August’s wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). The point of conflict in the story is August’s insinuated alcoholism, and absolutely cold, cruel, and controlling personality. August is cold and cruel both to his own workers, and the animals in his circus. While Pattinson doesn’t exactly shine by himself, placed next to Christoph Waltz, the pair beautifully illustrate the heights of good and the depths of evil. August is an absolutely horrible person. He’s the kind of villain that audiences love to hate. And that’s because of Waltz’s acting abilities. His character of Colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds (2009) was a good turn as a villain. But this time out, he’s even more villainous. If not for Waltz, the story centered on the trio would have been little more than just another forgettable romance/drama storyline.
Christoph Waltz single handedly carried his castmates in Water for Elephants, save for one in particular. That actor…or rather actress…was Rosie the elephant. Upon her introduction, Rosie wins over audiences without even trying. Watching waht August does to her makes her that much more loveable, and him that much more despised. As a note, no animals were harmed in the making of the movie, obviously. That aside, scenes such as his brutality towards Rose makes it less than suitable for children. Though there are some more adult moments, too, that aren’t exactly kid friendly. Parents should be warned about this.
Water for Elephants has an applause worthy cast. But the cast alone doesn’t make the movie. Nor does the story. The depression era backdrop is nothing new to the movie industry. Plenty of other flicks have been crafted with a similar backdrop. What makes the depression era backdrop so appealing to audiences this time is the circus train. Yes, it’s something minute. But there’s something really nostalgic about the circus train pushing on from one town to the next. That nostalgic feeling alone makes the movie worth sitting through, despite the pacing problem.
Other than the acting of Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, the only other true downside to Water for Elephants was the pacing. It’s one more movie that despite having an interesting story, gets bogged down in itself a bit too much. Thankfully the pacing problem doesn’t overpower the story, thus making it a movie that’s worth at least one watch, if not more.