The film Water for Elephants, based on the novel by surpasses the quality of most romance-drama films through it's use of more traditional visuals and the casting of Christoph Waltz in a supporting role that adds so much to movie. His character's very presence develops a love-triangle and adds a new dynamic to the film. Anyone who has seen Inglourious Basterds knows that Christoph Waltz can play a charmer who can simultaneously be malicious.
The film opens with a quick intro to the story of Jacob (Robert Pattinson), a prospective dentist who drops out of Cornell after his parents die. He leaves town and hops on a train late one night. This train just happens to be a traveling circus, ran by August (Waltz). August's wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) is the lead act of the circus, and she quickly catches Jacob's eye with her beauty and way with animals. This develops the classical relationship between a boy and the master’s wife. August agrees not to throw Jacob from the train due to the fact that Jacob studied to be a veterinarian, and August is proud to have his own Ivy League vet onboard with the circus.
Robert Pattinson is competent in the role of Jacob, he plays it safe by not being too different than his usual roles. Unfortunately this leads to a relatively flat character. Pattinson shows some promise, but he is far from any reason to see this film. Reese Witherspoon brings compassion to her character, turning Marlena into the graceful beauty she should be seen as. Of course neither of these two match up with the on screen power of Christoph Waltz. Whenever August enters a room everyone quiets, the attention is on him and pressure mounts as people are unsure of whether he will celebrate or torment.
The circus train is a great environment for this type of story. The romance between Jacob and Marlena that slowly develops is told while on the go, but the real magic comes in the period appropriate circus tales. For example, August hates the Wringley Brothers. The scenes depicting the dying circuses are also good, portraying the fleeting window of glory that circus acts live in, their lives surrounded by a tent that will only be filled if there is an attraction to bring in spectators.
Overall, Water for Elephants is not an amazing film, but it is a pretty darn good one. People will hopefully appreciate the period setting, the circus environment, the leaving out of a violent climax, and of course Christoph Waltz’s acting. While not the epic romance many people were expecting, Water for Elephants is a film which can still be enjoyed by many.