Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants

2011, PG-13, 122 min. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 29, 2011

In this adaptation of Sara Gruen's book-club favorite Water for Elephants, Twilight heartthrob Pattinson stretches to play a character with a pulse – but just barely. Orphaned in the film's opening minutes and suddenly cash-poor in 1930s New York, Pattinson's Jacob hops a train in the dead of night only to discover he's caught a ride with a traveling circus. A former veterinary student, Jacob's animal expertise quickly makes him indispensable to ringmaster-with-rage-issues August (Waltz, in a colorless do-over of his Inglourious Basterds' charismatic diablo). Witherspoon plays August's star attraction and wife Marlena, and her Jean Harlow platinum-blond bob out-vibrants everything else in this consistently murky picture (all the more curious considering cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto has done such lush work for Ang Lee and Alejandro González Iñárritu). No one would mistake the Benzini Bros. Circus for the Greatest Show on Earth – the Depression-era traveling troupe is a junker compared to the gold-standard Ringling Bros. – but still, a film has to try pretty hard to render lions and tigers and trapeze artists so uniformly underwhelming. And that's just the sideshow entertainment: The love triangle that determines Water for Elephants' dark trajectory is just as joyless and wanly dramatized.

More Francis Lawrence Films
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
As the series ends, we wonder what we'll do without our Katniss catnip

Josh Kupecki, Nov. 20, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Katniss Everdeen goes from Hunger Games victor to emblem of the revolution

Kimberley Jones, Nov. 21, 2014

More by Kimberley Jones
Cranky loner (and beloved character actor) faces mortality

Oct. 13, 2017

Future Imperfect: Our Favorite Dystopian Films
Our Favorite Dystopian Films
VOTE: Deadly roller derby, sad clones, and a Road Warrior duke it out

Sept. 28, 2017


Water for Elephants, Francis Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)