Based on the book by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski who as an old man is recounting the tale of when he first joined the circus as a young man, during the Great Depression of 1930s America. Only days away from finishing his degree and becoming a certified vet, Jacob learns that his parents have been killed in a car accident. He leaves home and wanders aimlessly, unsure what to do - until he sees a train approaching and decides to jump on board, only to discover he has just boarded a circus train - the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.
Directed by Francis Lawrence (I am Legend), the film stars Hal Holbrook (Wall Street, The Firm) as old Jacob, Robert Pattinson as young Jacob, Reece Witherspoon as Marlena and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) as Marlena's husband and Circus boss August.
Marlena is the star attraction and when August decides to keep Jacob on as the circus vet, he doesn't like that his wife is getting close to him. A violent man, with people and the animals, people know better than to cross him.
Jacob falls for Marlena and befriends the old drunk Camel (a man not an animal) and dwarf Walter. But he has very little (if any) chemistry with any of them. It is only when the real star arrives that the actors begin to shine. Rosie the elephant (real name Tai) is stunning and the greatest actress of the film. She seems to bring out the best in the cast and when they are with her, they are brilliant. R-Pattz flirting with Rosie is hilarious and so cute and watching Reece Witherspoon bravely climb the ladder up to sit on her shows just how strong a character Marlena is.
The relationship between Marlena and Jacob does not strike me (or many others as I have now discovered) as a passionate love affair but more a crush (on Jacob's part) and a way out (for Marlena). Marlena was found abandoned as a baby and married more for necessity than love. Now stuck in an abusive relationship, she sees Jacob as a chance to escape. Or that's how it appeared.
In spite of this though, there are brilliant touches of the time, from clothing and hairstyles to the secret bars of the prohibition era and the film is visually so beautiful you feel as though you can almost touch it. This, mixed in with the breath-taking Rosie makes for a perfectly watchable film. Plus, Hal Holbrook telling the story is so engrossing you can't help but stick around and hear what he had to say.
I'm afraid I haven't read the book - so can't compare but please do comment away as to whether the adaptation was any good...