A country's trying times has always been an effective backdrop for literary masterpieces and great films. A lot of movie makers have produced films that used the settings of war, political oppression and rising social chaos. But for this film from 20th Century Fox, "Water for Elephants", I particularly got intrigued on the film's intent to exploit the great depression of USA in the 1930s.
Based on the acclaimed number-one bestseller Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, the story happened during the Great Depression where Jacob (Robert Pattinson) a penniless and recently orphaned veterinary medicine student, left his hometown and looked somewhere else to continue his life. He found himself and got the ride of his life inside The Big Top, a train that houses and transports circus performers around the country. Even without a finished degree, he was given the chance to attend to the needs of the animals which way of life, is not very different from the humans who also work for the circus. Compassion for a special elephant brought together Jacob and Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), one of the show's star performers. They both discovered life's beauty despite the inhumane living conditions in the Big Top. But both restrained themselves on what they feel as their lives are in the possession of no less than August (Christoph Waltz), Marlena's unpredictable and dangerous husband.
I initially was just intrigued about the film but I didn't expect that I will be mesmerized and satisfied by the said movie. I have three reasons for saying such remarks.
Water for Elephants is relevant. The story is universal. I did not see the movie as a plain love story. For me, the film's essence is beyond that. The story happened almost a century ago but the struggle of the human spirit in trying times is still universal allowing viewers to relate to the film. With the great depression as the setting of the movie, I saw the train and the circus as a symbol of America during that time, how it carried the lives of its citizens and how it allowed them, like the animals in the film, survive. And the film's conclusion showed us what each person did to move forward in his life. Who took risks? Who gave up? Who fought back? Who cheated death? Who escaped? Who pursued his happiness? Who made a living and who lived their lives? Well, that's for you to find out in the movie. =)
Water for Elephant is beautifully made. It is a well crafted film. Francis Lawrence, the film's director was able to extract the creativity of his team. He was able to mix well the elements of a well told motion picture -- classy cinematography, elegant production design and polished editing.
Water for Elephant is an acting ensemble. Christoph Waltz and Reese Witherspoon did shine in this film. Waltz was able to effectively deliver the nuances of his role and Witherspoon showed the audience how subdued acting can drive mystery and draw emotion.
Robert Pattinson can give some more emotion in his performance but I think it's not bad at all. It somehow fits his character as Jacob, a restrained, confused and innocent young man finding himself in a world he considered as purgatory.
For me, the actors were well considered for their respective roles, so this issue on matching thing is no big deal for me. Roles suggest that Marlena is more matured and sensual while Jacob is innocent and naive. So both Pattinson and Witherspoon only acted what are required from them for their characters. The support actors were equally well casted and the animals of course, the elephant especially, impressed those who watched the movie.
One of my builds in the film is the narration of the story of the old Jacob. I agree that this story is really best narrated but I think there's another creative execution in doing this. Well, this old folks narrating their past lives have been done for so many times (e.g. Titanic) but I don't judge the film based on that. If the director and writer thinks that that is the best way to tell the story, then so be it. I only wished for a better creative execution setting since the film is largely classy and I think the narration part is too plain for the film.
I like the cinematography but think the men behind the camera could have explored more artistic and cinematic angles. The panoramic views are there and what is lacking is just a matter of more creative framing and lighting. But nonetheless, I still think the film's cinematography worked well.
Contrary to earlier reviews, I consider Water for Elephants one of the very good films produced at this early part of the year. And I won't be surprised if the movie, and some of its actors, gets nominated next year.
From a scale of 1 to 10 claps, I'm giving Water for Elephants a redeeming 8 1/2. From 20th Century Fox, Water for Elephants opens in cinemas on May 4.