I read the book by Sara Gruen 2 or 3 years ago, so I didn’t really remember a lot of the details, but from what I can tell the movie does a good job of staying true to the book. There are a couple changes here and there – for example they leave out the nursing home scenes. But that’s necessary to keep the movie from lasting 4 hours.
The most striking part of the movie is how much you feel for the animals. There are a few really intense scenes of animal cruelty that really get to you. There’s also a lot of violence between the characters – it’s hard to watch but only because the movie does a good job of making you feel for the characters (animals included).
Here’s a plot summary: “When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her. Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.” – worldmoviesummary.com
Rob does a good job as Jacob, the main character. As much as I love him and his beautiful face, he can be a really awkward actor – and a really awkward Edward. But either he has been practicing, or this character came easily for him because he was really believable as the circus stow-away. And, most importantly, he looked super handsome in his bow ties and suspenders :)
Reese Witherspoon was also good as Marlena, the boss’ wife and the show’s star attraction. And the love story between her and Jacob was believable (obviously it’s not too hard to believe that anyone would fall in love with a mysterious vagabond who looks just like Robert Pattinson). Staying true to the book, the romance element of the movie was not overwhelming – it’s basically just understood that the two of them have a connection.
Now, for the two things that bothered me most about this movie:
Number one – some of the sets and the special effects were terrible! The circus scenes are good, but the characters venture out into town a couple times and into New York City once. The “towns” were the most obvious movie sets I have ever seen – it looked like Sesame Street or something. And when Marelana and Jacob exit a dark ally in New York City, they end up in front of a magical view of the Brooklyn Bridge….The worst part, though, might be the Empire State Building in the clouds behind the circus tents the next day….really?
The special effects are super realistic too….. The lions, tigers and other jungle animals don’t look animated at all…..
But don’t worry, Rosy the elephant and one of the main characters is looking good.
The next thing that was a little bothersome was August’s accent. What is that? August is the ring leader and Marlena’s husband played by Christoph Waltz. I’m not familiar with him, but he does a good job in this movie – his most famous role was in Inglorious Bastard’s. With August, he has to walk the fine line between crazy and cruel, and he does it really well. But anyway, he’s Austrian, but his accent in the movie is just bizarre. It’s part Austrian, part 1930s gangster, part New York Jew. That’s the best way I can describe it. Does he really talk like that?
Anyway, all in all a pretty good movie – I just wouldn’t expect any Oscar nominations for set design.