Visually Stunning, Emotionally Fulfilling Period Piece

April 21, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

LOVE QUADRILATERAL: Christoph Waltz, Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Rosie the elephant in a scene from the film Water for Elephants. (David James/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.)
LOVE QUADRILATERAL: Christoph Waltz, Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Rosie the elephant in a scene from the film Water for Elephants. (David James/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.)
Based on Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel of the same name, Water for Elephants is a gorgeously vivid and authentic portrayal of life in the circus in the 1930s.

Jacob (Robert Pattinson), an aspiring veterinarian, loses his parents in a car accident and is forced to leave his studies and his home. He decides to jump aboard a train, and that fateful action changes his life forever, as he joins the magical, wondrous and harsh world of the Benzini Brothers Circus, run by the mercurial August (Christoph Waltz).

While working as a vet for the circus, Jacob meets and falls in love with August’s beautiful wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), as well as Rosie (Tai), a 53-year-old elephant who becomes the circus’s star attraction.

Water for Elephants is a highly stylized film, one that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into another era for a few hours. The 1930s’ prohibition backdrop is a perfect setting for an old-world romantic story, with all of the classic ingredients for an enjoyable, old-fashioned film.

It has gorgeous, almost angelic eye candy in its leading lovers, Jacob and Marlena; a heartwrenching and charismatic four-legged supporting actor, Rosie; and the magic, brutality, and hardship of traveling in a circus.

The character development is natural, comprehensive, and nuanced. As each character’s story is revealed, the audience is more and more emotionally invested and drawn into the richly textured script.

Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine) departs from his sci-fi roots and thoroughly succeeds in bringing Gruen’s masterpiece to the big screen, even enhancing its staying true to the author’s original intentions.

The casting is perfect. Pattinson proves he’s much more talented than his somewhat one-dimensional portrayal of Edward Cullen in the Twilight series. And Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon dazzles in her touching and fierce portrayal of the tough yet compassionate Marlena.

The other Oscar winner, supertalented Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) just about steals every scene he’s in—even those with Rosie the elephant! His pitch-perfect, devastatingly charismatic, and dangerous persona is both joyful and chilling to watch onscreen. There is no better actor for playing binary characters. You want to love him one second and yet are consumed by fear and loathing for him the next.

If you like tearjerkers, love stories, and enchanting period pieces, you will absolutely love Water for Elephants. It’s a beautifully rich and intoxicating story, a tale that will mesmerize your eyes and touch your soul.