What’s big and gray and the best actor in this photo? (Don’t over think the answer.)

Theatrical Release Date: 04/22/2011
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Paul Schneider, Hal Holbrook, Tai (yes, the elephant … and yes, it has an IMDb page)
Rated: PG-13 for moments of intense violence and sexual content.
Runtime: 2 hours, 2 minutes


Don’t look back, but I think an elephant is following you two.

Allow me to set the scene. A stowaway finds himself in love with a woman under the thumb of a rich a-hole. Their love is true so they plot to run away together. Said a-hole isn’t having any of that and he sets out to remove the young whippersnapper who has stolen his lady’s affections.

Any of this ringing a bell? No, not “Titanic”. It’s the film adaptation of Sara Gruen’s novel, “Water for Elephants”.

In the movie, Jack is played by Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), Rose is Melanie Smooter (Reese Witherspoon), and Billy Zane is approximated by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Hmm, that’s a lot of film mix-ups … but if you know which ones I’m referencing, you pretty much know what kind of performances you’re getting.

Instead of taking place on a gigantic luxury cruise ship circa 1912, the story revolves around a traveling circus in the Depression. The ringmaster (Waltz) is a cruel man, with a penchant for whisky, married to the star performer (Witherspoon). Pattinson is a veterinary student struck by familial tragedy who takes up on the road and lands himself a gig in Waltz’s circus. From there on, just replace the notion of the ship with a giant elephant named Rosie and the rest of the plot points with James Cameron’s ode to CGI (but thankfully, you can remove an hour of the runtime and despite the pachyderm’s moniker, there are no interspecies love scenes … unless you actually believe that Pattinson sparkles in the sun).

Now, to be fair, Pattinson does a fairly decent job here. He still has the occasion look as if he just threw up in his mouth a little from the stench of Kristen Stewart but because the script here isn’t as insipid as the “Twilight” franchise, his attempts at exhibiting emotional pain are more believable. Also to his credit, and the film in general, he fits the look of the depression-era.

The weak link in the love triangle is actually Witherspoon. She was sleepwalking through her part and I could be easily convinced that the reason she sometimes doesn’t seem to be acting/reacting to Pattinson in certain scenes is that some of the CGI budget went to digitally inserting him into the frame later.

Unsurprisingly, the brightest spot in the production comes from Waltz. Anyone who’s seen “Inglourious Basterds” knows that he can play scary quite well and that’s exactly what he does here. He dominated every scene he’s in, making up for the lack of intensity from the other actors.

Of course, furthering the comparisons to “Titanic”, the film opens and closes with the older version of one of its characters, though I suppose to be different, it’s poor Hal Holbrook saddled with playing the older version of Pattinson. Holbrook relates the story to Bill Paxton Paul Schneider, and it’s a shame director Francis Lawrence didn’t intercut more of their conversation into the movie as watching these actors on-screen is far more captivating than the two romantic leads.

Still, despite all of the fun I’ve had comparing the similarities between this and “Titanic”, the bottom line is that if you liked the story in 1997, you’ll like it again here. Those who enjoy swooning at dime-store novel romances will get what they want. Sure, the story feels like Gruen wrote the plot points in order to please an audience rather than from some deep-seated sense of inspiration or conviction, but that won’t deter those who fit the demographic from getting caught up in all of the generic and predictable events.

Also working in the film’s favor are cinematographer and editor , who always seem to deliver on their ends. The movie looks gorgeous and although I was slightly dreading two hours with Pattinson, the story progressed quite efficiently.

So, while I wasn’t swayed by the romance, I did enjoy the circus aspects, the period detail and Waltz’ presence. Cinematographer Rodriego Prieto and editor Alan Edward Bell give the production a solid framework and “Water for Elephants” will make its expected audience happy enough, getting a 3 out of 5. The simple test to whether this will fit the bill for you in particular lies in watching the trailer. If you’re interested after watching it, you’ll probably like the end result. Otherwise … well … you know.

3 out of 5