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Water for Elephants


Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook. Paul Schneider, Jim Norton

Director: Francis Lawrence

It's been a long while since we've seen a circus story, so it's a shame that this one is so conventional. Well mounted, though, and sturdily acted, the film does have a whiff of the real thing and opens with an old-timer (Holbrook), on the run from an old folks' home, visiting a travelling circus, and recounting his own adventures with the big top of the Bandini Brothers.

Jacob (played as a younger man by Pattinson, with a respectable American accent) trained as a vet, but had to quit his studies when his parents were killed in a car crash, and hit the road, jumping aboard a train that just happened to contain the Bandini circus.

Ruthlessly bossed by August (Waltz), the show features his wife (Witherspoon) and her horses as the star attraction - until August acquires an elephant. A mass of contradictions, August is cruel to the animals and possessive of his wife, a situation that swiftly sets up a familiar romantic triangle.

Pattinson is a surprisingly charismatic leading man in this, with Witherspoon slightly too high-class as the object of his desires, and Waltz more or less repeating his Oscar-winning turn from Inglourious Basterds. Not quite the greatest show on earth, the colourful yarn should still bring back a nostalgic frisson for a movie genre long passed. And the elephant is fantastic.

David Quinlan

USA 2011. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox 2000). Colour by deluxe.
115 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 29 Apr 2011