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Water for Elephants
Genre Drama

Water for Elephants is a ridiculous title. Although it makes more sense when you realise that it's a crossover of two cinematic achievements of the 20th century... namely Titanic and Dumbo. Titanic in the way that this epic romance drama has been constructed, and Dumbo in the subject matter, story and special effects. Lavish, historic sets filled with extras in accurate costume and circus animals form the backdrop to this swirling romance about a young man, who happens to jump a circus train, become an indispensable asset to the traveling show before trying to steal the star attraction from her manager and conductor husband.

Water for Elephants stars famed Twilight star Robert Pattinson in a mature developmental leading role as Jacob opposite Reese Witherspoon in one of her more physical performances as the star attraction Marlena. The two have good believable chemistry, yet their solid performances are outranked by even better supporting roles from Hal Holbrook as Old Jacob and Christoph Waltz as August.

Holbrook is on form, recently nominated for an Oscar for his part in Into The Wild. The man carries genuine warmth so naturally that it's difficult not to connect with his heartwarming smile, doggedly demeanor and wry sense of humour in a short yet important performance. Waltz is also having the time of his life, playing another villain to perfection with a twist of John Malkovich, reminding us just how he blew the competition away with his role in Inglorious Basterds.

The ensemble deliver fine all-round performances, which are flanked by renowned music video director Francis Lawrence, who directs this grand piece of storytelling based on the novel by Sara Gruen, adapted to screen by Richard LaGravenese (P.S. I Love You). The Constantine and I Am Legend director conjures up an intricate story to tie in with the tag line "Life is the Most Spectacular Show on Earth", conveying the scale of this cross-country train adventure without compromising the smaller intimate moments.

The dramatic epic unveils the dark underworld of circus life, including animal abuse, poor Great Depression conditions and the cutthroat side of business in the entertainment industry of the time. A clash of old world wonder and seedy modern industry tactics offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what circus life must have been like. The era has been beautifully reconstructed and the CGI has been used so effortlessly that several 'wow' moments sneak by without questioning the integrity of the visuals.

It's the sort of swirling romance drama that shadows movies like Titanic and Gone with the Wind. The romantic co-leads may not be the greatest casting call for a film like Water for Elephants, but the two deliver surprising performances nevertheless. Water for Elephants must be the quintessential live-action circus film, offering action sequences to match Gladiator at the Colosseum, moments of levity and compelling drama.

Water for Elephants echoes the reasons that circuses were so popular with a full spectrum of grand unpredictable entertainment. You hardly even notice that two hours have flown by and the production values, solid performances, sharp writing and vivid visuals compose a rich, convincing and entertaining story to match Titanic on many levels. It's not perfect... but that's the tainted beauty of the circus.

The bottom line: Impressive.

8.57/10 ( 7 Votes )
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