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The Independent Critic

Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider
Francis Lawrence
Richard LaGravanese, Sara Gruen (Novel)
Rated PG-13
122 Mins.
20th Century Fox

 "Water for Elephants" Review 
Robert Pattinson may never again achieve the level of fame that he has reached as a key player in the Twilight ensemble.

That's okay. Really. For audiences and, I suspect, for Pattinson himself, I question whether that level of fame, public recognition and success was ever really part of the long-term career plan.

However, with his appearance in Water for Elephants, Pattinson is proving once and for all that he is a true actor ... admittedly, an uncommonly handsome one, but still an actor. While Water for Elephants isn't likely to be recalled among the year end's award-winning films and Pattinson himself isn't likely to garner any acting acclaim for the film, the film is a sign of growth for the young actor who has said without hesitation that he aspires to being taken seriously as an actor. While Pattinson still exhibits a bit of a limited emotional range and served up an only modestly convincing chemistry with co-star Reese Witherspoon, Water for Elephants may very well become the film that convinces Hollywood to take this young actor seriously.

Based upon a novel by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants is an extraordinarily beautiful film set in the 1930's. Jacob (Pattinson) is well on his way to obtaining a veterinary degree when family tragedy strikes. To escape his grief, Jacob hops a train and finds himself amongst the roustabouts of The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus ruled by August Rosenbluth (Christoph Waltz, Oscar winner for Inglourious Basterds). It doesn't take long for Jacob to become smitten by Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), August's younger and quite beautiful woman.

If you think you know where this is going, even without having read Gruen's novel, you are most likely correct.

What Water for Elephants lacks in originality and true dramatic spark it makes up for in its stunning, earthy camera work by Rodrigo Prieto and Jack Fisk's remarkable art direction. Director Francis Lawrence isn't a particularly imaginative director, choosing instead to allow Water for Elephants to exist as a sort of retro-styled period film reminiscent of Hollywood's golden years. This style of filmmaking may very well prove to be tiresome for some and boring for others, yet for those who love to simply sit back and allow the images, words and characters to unfold before their eyes this may very well prove to be a perfect choice.

Water for Elephants is a simple, romantic and beautiful complemented perfectly by James Newton Howard's extraodinarily moving original score. Richard LaGravenese's script, however, disappoints as it fails to capture the real essence of Gruen's widely beloved novel. LaGravenese gets the framework, but not quite the soul of Gruen's work.

Witherspoon makes for a beautiful 30's style starlet and trapped wife, though LaGravenese gives her very little to do and there are times she flounders with what to make of her character. Indeed, both Witherspoon and Pattinson's performances evoke memories of The Notebook, a film that didn't so much command extraordinary performances as it did familiar and wonderful feelings from its stars.

Water for Elephants is also proof that Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is no one-hit wonder, here offering a chilling and unforgettable performance as the borderline psychotic August Rosenbluth, a man who can be simultaneously humorous and bordering on insane. In performances that bookend the film, Hal Holbrook and John Schneider serve up their typically fine performances.

Perhaps the first absolutely perfect date flick for early 2011, Water for Elephants truly won't work for everyone but for those who do embrace it I suspect the feeling will be one of absolute love and adoration.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic