Water For Elephants at the IMDb
Robert Pattinson and Reece Witherspoon star in this circus drama which was a lot more enjoyable than I’d expected.
The film opens and closes with old Hal Holbrook wandering about a closed circus. Luckily the carnie folk don’t rob him and stick him in the hotdog machine, but choose to listen to his tales of the circus life he’d lead. His narration slowly dissolves into that of Robert Pattison and we head back in time…
Pattison plays Jacob, a young student in depression era America who is studying to become a vet. Alas, he literally sits down to take his final exam when the police arrive to tell him his family is all dead and the house is being repossessed - I hate mornings like that. Jacob goes walking the railway tracks, as you do, and hops on the first open carriage that passes him. This could have been a mistake as it’s full of carnies but happily Bishop Brennan is there to take him in and offer him some lunch.
The train is a travelling circus and after meeting the enigmatic ringmaster (Christoph Waltz) he gets a job shovelling shit. His near veterinary qualifications come in handy when the star turn horse gets sick and Jacob uses all his skill to shoot the nag in the head. This enrages the hot tempered ring master but endears him to his wife who presumably didn’t like the nag anyway.
The boss soon gets over his desire to chuck Jacob off the train and soon has him as his chief vet. Jacob also starts to make friends with his midget bunkmate and several other carnival folk note of whom are nasty apart from Ken Foree, and he had that bad experience with zombies to blame for his less than sunny disposition.
The circus is always in money troubles and Waltz decides that an elephant is the answer. Alas the elephant is rubbish and gets many well deserved beatings from the hard pressed ring master. Jacob however discovers that the elephant speaks Polish and soon she’s doing all manner of tricks to save the show. Whether anyone noticed the irony of exploiting an elephant to show an elephant being exploited isn’t explored.
As time passes Jacob and the ring master’s wife get closer just as the top hatted one gets more violent and irrational. Can true (cheating) love prevail and will the elephant survive? We know Jacob will as we see him as an old man, but how can the lovely Reece be saved? And who’s putting all those animals back?
This may have the accursed tag of ‘family film’ but there was plenty to like with lots of elephant beatings and adultery to keep the kids happy. Pattison doesn’t have much of a range but he seems a decent guy and I’m sure he’ll be OK by the time he gets to Hal Holbrook’s age. Reece, who decently starred in her husband’s drink driving video, was fine in her skimpy costumes but she didn’t convince as the child found on a box who had grown up in the circus - didn’t even swear once and had no tattoos! Waltz was the star turn but his mania here was a bit too random to be convincing and it wasn’t clear why he has such a loyal staff when his redundancy policy consisted of chucking them off a train.
The sets and locations were great with classic evocations of hot summers days and elephant shit. The animal scenes were well done although there was a touch of CGI in the final scene of the animals escaping - goddamn sissy extras! The finale was well earned, and although a bit schmaltzy, I’m all for it.
Overall a good, solid, well made slice of depression era circus life with animals beaten, justice served and people murdered - sounds like a fun night out!
THE Tag Line - Come to the Circus - Maulings extra 76%