I have to admit that Water for Elephants was a decent representation of the book. Take into consideration that a movie is never going to give you 100% of the book. That being said, I was disappointed with the parts of the book the movie left out. There were lots of little details and nuances that just can’t come across on the full screen anyway, although you would have liked to have seen how they would have been portrayed. Although too numerous to mention and for those who haven’t read the book it wouldn’t matter anyway, the biggest (for those who have read it) would be the comedic scenes that play out with Jacob in the nursing home. All of those chapters were completely left out.
We open with an old man (Hal Holbrook) wandering into the parking lot of a circus that is packing up and moving out. A workman comes out to see if he is lost and invites him in out of the rain while the man calls the nursing home. The old man looks at the old black and white circus photos on the wall and recalls out loud which circuses they are from. This grabs the worker’s attention and he mentions the Benzini Brothers Circus tragedy from years ago. The old man says he was there and the worker asks him to tell him about it. We flash back to a younger gentleman played by Robert Pattinson and the movie is played out as a flashback of the old man’s story.
Although I never would have expected it, Robert Pattinson plays out a perfect Jacob. That irresistible smile he gets on his face when he’s around the animals definitely lets us connect with Jacob the way we wanted to see him connecting with Rosie the elephant. Perfect choice for the part!
Christoph Waltz was a decent August, the ring master and circus owner. I pictured someone larger and darker, maybe more Italian looking, when I was reading the book but August’s charm and charisma as a business man, and brutality and harshness as a monster, really made him a different type of character that readers will both appreciate and despise. We really see him on the verge of snapping and just how quickly it can happen. There is one scene where he becomes angry with Rosie that really sets that uncomfortable tone you get from him in the book.
Reese was Reese, what can I say. She’s beautiful to look at, but just not as sexy and alluring as Marlena comes across sometimes in the book. Still a decent performance from her though and she and Robert make a cute couple.
Speaking of sex, there’s a lot of it in the book including a strip tease tent in the circus. Those scenes are in the movie, but treated with dignity and careful camera angles – obviously allowing this movie its PG13 rating. It drags in places where we have to witness the slow glances and connections being made between Jacob and Marlena. August’s discovery of the two is a bit rushed, but after that the action picks up making the last half of the movie pretty solid. The sad redlighting treatment of circus workers being thrown from the train out of spite and to lighten the financial load is there, balanced with a breathtaking scene of Jacob and August walking across the top of the train in motion. And then there’s old Rosie, and you can’t help but smile along with Jacob at the gentle beast when she performs or is providing comedic relief.
Non-book readers might find the movie a bit slow at times but will enjoy it overall. After all, we each have our own favorite circus act, right? Some book lovers will certainly be disappointed, but if you try hard to approach the movie with a different set of eyes (and lower your expectations just a tad) you will be well entertained. I know I was.
Sigh! Guess I’ll have to go and see it now, and hand over even more of my hard earned pennies to the Patz who’ll probably spend it on hair care products. See what you’ve done now, Shannon?! 😉