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"Water for Elephants" - {Blu-ray} - (Ed)
Reviewer:
Edward McNulty
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Genre:
Drama
Release Date:
1/11/11
Special Features:

See Below

Review:

If you loved the circus as a kid, you probably will enjoy this beautifully photographed film directed by Francis Lawrence. When shown at theaters many were drawn by its stars, Reese Witherspoon as bareback rider Marlena and Christoph Waltz as her domineering husband and circus owner August Rosenbluth. For this reviewer the attraction was screenwriter Richard LaGravanese, who wrote the screenplay of one of my all time favorite films The Fisher King (as well as Freedom Writers and The Horse Whisperer). An adaptation of The New York Times bestseller of the same name by Sara Gruen, the film was a moderate success at the box office, and as word spreads, should do very well as a home video.***

The story is told by old Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook), who has arrived on a rainy night too late to catch the last act of a visiting circus. The kindly manager (Paul Schneider) leads him into his office and tries to call the retirement home from which the old man is A.O.L. When he learns that Jacob worked at the famous Benzini Brothers Circus during the Depression, he is eager to hear Jacob’s story, and especially about the disastrous 1931 events that brought that circus to an end.***

Young Jacob (Robert Pattinson) is ready to take his veterinary exams at Cornell University when he is called out of class and told that both his parents have been killed in an auto accident. This tragic news is followed by the revelation that the bank now owns the family home. The young man is so distraught that he packs a suitcase and hikes out of town, later that night hopping aboard a train. It turns out it is the circus train of the Benzini Brothers, now owned by August Rosenbluth. The stowaway is caught and would have been thrown off the train, but when Rosenbluth learns that Jacob has veterinarian training, he changes his mind and hires him.***

Next day’s scene of unloading the wagons and setting up the big top was especially a treat for me—bringing back a fond memory from the days when my five children were young. (We went to the edge of town and watched just such a one-ring circus was getting set up.)***

Jacob starts at the bottom, mucking out the animal pens and dealing with garbage and wormy food fed to the animals. It is hard work, but his first sight of Marlena and her magnificent white horse makes him forget all his hardships. He asks a worker, “Who's the woman who works with the horses?” The man replies, “That ain't no woman, that's the boss' wife and she don't talk to nobody and you don't talk to her.”***

However, when she is examining the right front leg of her horse, Jacob does talk to her. Feeling the leg, he tells her that the horse will go lame very soon. Sure enough, not long afterward, the horse cannot stand. The condition is incurable, so Jacob puts the horse down for her. He shares her sorrow, and we know that eventually will share far more.***

Her husband soon unveils the replacement for Marlena’s beloved horse. It is a middle-aged elephant named Rosie. Marlena is not sure she can ride the tall beast, and Jacob is just as uncertain about training it. Fortunately, Rosie senses that the two of them love animals and have the patience required in cross-species dealing. Rosie uses her sensitive trunk to nuzzle them and at times to pull a prank on them, such as spraying them with water. August takes such a liking to Jacob that at times he outfits him in a tux and invites him to share a dinner, sometimes in their quarters and other times at a local speakeasy where jazz and dancing accompany the illegal drinking. But along with his friendliness August exudes a menacing undercurrent, that erupts into violence when he drinks too much.***

At one point his rage is directed at Rosie when she fails to do his bidding during a big top performance. He takes the harpoon-like goad and attacks the hapless beast, damaging her so much that she sinks to the floor of her hut. Jacob and Marlena spend long hours nursing her back to health. When Jacob discovers that Rosie had been trained by a Pole, he is able to pass on to August the Polish language instructions for her tricks. It turns out that Rosie can do such tricks as bowing, standing on her head, and rearing back on her hind legs. With Marlena astride her, the act draws in ever-larger crowds. August is pleased—with Rosie and Jacob. In a humorous but moving ceremony Jacob is inducted into the circus family. All seems well. But we know that beneath the surface, all is not well with August as he watches closely Jacob when he is around Marlena.***

Special Features:

Audio commentary with director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese

Six Featurettes Including:

Featurettes on stars Robert Pattinson - HD - (3:58) and Reese Witherspoon HD - (2:35)

The Traveling Show: From Page to Screen: Featurette on the book's screen adaptation.HD (9:14)

Working Without a Net: The Visual Effects of Water for Elephants - HD (22:37)

The Star Attraction - HD- (9:12)

Raising the Tent - HD- (15:42)

Secrets of the Big Top - HD (4:00)

Theatrical Trailer - HD- (2:00)

BD-Live functionality & Digital Copy.

Final Words:

If we understand that a love story is the attempt of the couple to return to Paradise or the Garden of Eden, then in this version August is the snake that will disrupt the harmony. The star who first came to our attention as the cultured but ruthless Nazi in Inglorious Basterds, Christoph Walkin, is equally effective in this film, making us like him because of his charm and warmth, and then quickly hate him when he strikes out in anger against those closest to him. Reese Witherspoon is equally impressive as the wife who is torn between her love and fear of him, and then seeking comfort and safety in the arms of Robert Pattinson’s Jacob. Surround their conflict with the colorful circus and some beautiful night scenes of the circus train chugging along under a moonlit sky, and you have a film that appeals both to the mind and the senses.***

 

 
 
 
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