Possible Spoilers Ahead!!!
This weekend, I viewed Water for Elephants twice! After having seen it twice, I feel like I can do a justified review of the film. Can you adapt a much loved book that is so vivid in detail and story into a film maintaining flow and rhythm? Water for Elephants does.
The movie follows the book pretty closely from the opening to the ending. We lose more of Jacob’s nursing home life, but really, why does that matter? The biggest difference is that Uncle Al does not exist in the film. I think this decision was valid. August is no longer the boss of the menagerie, but the boss of the whole show, giving him more absolute power and validity to his cruel decisions. Christoph Waltz could not have been more perfect as August. As he did in Inglorious Basterds, he plays the role of menace so well. One minute he is your best friend, taking you under his wing, the next he is revealing your secrets and ready to strangle you. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” seems to be Waltz’s special mantra. Perfect casting.
Robert Pattinson plays the role of young, almost veterinarian Jacob quite well. His charm comes through most when he’s working with Rosie the elephant, and he is just utterly enamored by her largess and her intelligence. She brings out the best in him: his compassion, his grief, his youth. I found myself forgiving R Patts for the Twilight series, and hope that he can keep a career going after it’s all over. He should. He does so well in this film. Oh, and when he’s playing a character that’s alive with a tan and with real weaknesses, he is attractive. I get it now.
With all that said, I wasn’t entirely impressed with Reese Witherspoon as Marlena. But, in reality, I think I wasn’t entirely impressed with the character of Marlena. In that regard, Witherspoon plays Marlena well. Her best scene is when she is honest with Jacob about why she is married to August, in a moment of truth about her life and her expectations for herself. And I think that it was hard for me to connect to Marlena in the book until that moment as well. Her life is a facade to keep herself safe and protected. I believe that she loved August for what he provided and taught her at first, but was also scared of what he would do if she ever left. She is beautiful, young, and much more compassionate than her husband. She eventually makes brave decisions and stands up for herself, but in the end, Rosie saves them all.
Rosie steals every scene she’s in. And I love her. I felt so bad for her when August went crazy beating her, and might have teared up on more than one occasion. She definitely owns her screen time, and saves her biggest champions when given the chance. How can you not love her? The world of the Depression-era Circus is pretty gruesome and only somewhat touched upon here. That’s mostly because the secondary characters aren’t focused on the way they are in the book, which shed more light on the life of workers versus performers. Only a minor shortcoming, in my opinion.
I stand by my earlier post that you must read the book. However, I think the film is a successful adaptation of the book, and deserves your time as well.