Water for Elephants (2011)
Dir: Francis Lawrence
It’s nice to see Robert Pattinson with some colour in his cheeks!
When an elderly man (Hal Holbrook) turns up at a circus one night after closing, he tells his life story to the circus worker (Paul Schneider). It’s a sad tale of how he as a young man Jacob (Robert Pattinson) was struck by tragedy and ended up joining a circus, where his unfinished training as a vet was a valuable skill, but put him in an awkward position with the circus owner August (Cristoph Waltz) and his beautiful wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).
It’s been a while since circus films were particularly popular, but this really does bring up memories of films such as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, and not just through the setting. There are a lot of tried-and-tested themes and techniques at use here, such as the device of someone telling their life story, and they seem to fit and work for this film.
The cast is rather good, Robert Pattinson made a good choice going to a film like this as it’s family friendly viewing and I can imagine mothers and their daughters swooning over him together. Reese Witherspoon is also nicely suited for her role, she seems quite at ease with the horses and elephant that her character works with, and the era and its costume works well with her look.
In a darker role is two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, who has clearly the most complex character role. August the circus owner has severely changing moods, and goes from liking people/animals/things to hating them, and has nasty ways of dealing with things. Waltz is a superb casting choice, as when he smiles and is lovely you really do warm to him a little, and yet is convincingly menacing when in a bad mood. The trickier part to this character however is his marriage to Marlena, as although it’s explained how they got together as a couple, they seem an odd pairing in temperament, but it’s true that unlikely couples do exist.
THere’s a lot of heart and charm to this film, much of it coming from the animals, especially Rosie the elephant, but also from the older Jacob played by Hal Holbrook. Although I’, not sure Robert Pattinson will look like Holbrook when he’s older, he is a lovely old man, and has both a face and voice that you really would invite into your office to tell you his life story. Although he only briefly tops and tails the film, it really adds huge warmth to the story, and helps smooth over certain rougher parts, as he nicely tells how things ended up.
The director Francis Lawrence is currently in post production of his next film ‘Catching Fire’ sequel to ‘The Hunger Games’. It’s a very different type of story and film to be working on, but I can see how certain skills may be transferable to that project, and I’m sufficiently confident he should be able to pull it off well.
I don’t see the circus genre making a huge comeback, but little visits to it like this one are certainly welcome as they’re nice reminders of both a time in history when circuses were more like that, and films were too.