I have been hearing a lot about the movie “Water for Elephants” and was curious to see if it was actually as good as all the hype surrounding it. The film is based on the popular novel by Barbara Kingsolver and was directed by Michael Curtiz. While I was initially hesitant to see the film because of its overwhelming media attention, I decided to go ahead and watch it anyway. Below I will go over my initial thoughts on the film as well as some details about it that I think you should know.
The plot of the movie is pretty simple and involves a wealthy American family traveling to England to visit relatives. While walking through the English countryside the family is stopped by a herd of what seem to be feral elephants. The family petrifies in fright and the elephants begin to attack them. During the chaos a young woman named Rosie runs away and hides in a nearby church. She then finds herself caught between a crazed bull elephant, a hungry pack of wolves, and a fearful nun. The family manages to fight off the wild animals and make it to safety. A few days later they return home, minus a young woman whose life they almost ended. While the family is understandably distraught over this near-tragic event, they also realize that Rosie and her dangerous animal companions are a valuable commodity and decide to keep her as a pet. However, before they can make proper arrangements for Rosie, one of the family members dies and the others finally come to the conclusion that they cannot keep a wild elephant in captivity. Thus begins the movie’s dramatic storyline.
The story behind the story is even more intriguing and has everything to do with animal rights, environmentalism, and the treatment of Elephants in captivity.
The film is an example of how powerful entertainment can be in bringing an important issue to light. The story is effective in making the viewer think about their connection to nature and their role in protecting it. Unfortunately, this level of thinking does not always translate well into real-life situations. This is a problem that all the animal rights activists in the world cannot solve. The entertainment industry can, however, be a powerful tool in creating awareness and sparking change.
This aspect of the review will focus on the acting and performances of the cast. First off, let’s talk about Donald Sutherland. I have never heard of this guy before but he was absolutely fantastic as the doddering patriarch of the wealthy American family. He was so good that I did not realize he was 75 years old until he started popping out of his clothes. He even got a laugh out of me when he said the line “I’m old, I’m fat, and I’m happy.” On that note, let’s move on to Michael Curtiz. He is most well known for his work on the classic film and TV series The Adventures of Ozzy Osborne but he also did some directing for Disney and Warner Bros. Besides, he was the youngest son of movie director Michael Curtiz. As I said before, the cast was effective and delivered some pretty powerful performances. The standout though was most definitely Anthony Hopkins. He has been acting for almost 70 years now and is still going strong. He was in the movie for about 30 seconds but it was more than enough time for me to fall in love with him. He brought his A-game and really sold the anguish and heartache of an old man experiencing his last moments on this planet.
There is no question that Hopkins was a highlight of the movie and, unfortunately, he will not be the only one you will see playing an old man. This is a running theme in the story and it is certainly true that old men are the most common victims of animal attacks. It is also common for animals to attack the person they perceive as the weakest link in the chain. In the novel and movie, this link is played by a young woman named Rosie. The scene where she is trying to make breakfast for the family was particularly haunting. I believe her character actually caught the eye of the great British actor Gordon Brown. He agreed to play the role of her abusive uncle in the movie. The way he throws his hat around and yells at her was absolutely hilarious. I would have loved to have seen this scene more than once.
This is the part of the review where I will give my opinion on the storyline. When it comes to movie stories, I try to keep an open mind but at the same time not open too much. I want to give the story the benefit of the doubt and assume that the filmmakers did their homework and made the most out of it. From the very beginning, the filmmakers did an excellent job of creating an atmosphere of foreboding mystery and dread. They started by showing brief clips of animals attacking and the chaos that ensued. Then, for the most part, the movie stayed in the shadows, revealing little snippets of information or setting the scene through dialogue. This made me curious to see what would happen next. When the story finally breaks into the open, it does so with a bang and never lets up the pace or heat. The plot actually thickens and the intensity level ratchets up a notch. In general, I thought the story was effective and could have been even more powerful with a little less dialogue and a lot more action. There were also a few twists and turns that I did not see coming but that is always the fun of it. I felt that Sutherland delivered a wonderful performance and that the movie would not have worked as well with another actor in the role. Overall, the story worked well for me as a stand-alone piece and I would love to see it again, maybe even with some minor changes. I thought the ending was excellent, even though it was not altogether surprising.
There is one scene in the film that I found to be slightly unbelievable but again, maybe that is because I did not expect it. For about 30 seconds, I was really rooting for the family’s pet bull elephant, Tim, to escape his captors and run free in the English countryside. He did, in fact, break free from his captors and run amok for a few moments, but then the police arrived and tranquilized him. While this did not ruin the film for me, it did take me out of the moment a little. I mean, come on, after all that buildup, it would have been so much more effective if the police had simply shot the bull. Perhaps this was a compromise to keep the audience interested and the animals were safe but it did take me out of the moment a bit.
This part of the review will discuss the look and feel of the locations. For the most part, I thought the movie was filmed mostly in and around London with a few excursions into the English countryside. One of the standout scenes was the very first one, showing the family arriving at the airport. From that moment on, the settings became a blurred mixture of London and the countryside. The colors and atmosphere were fantastic and even though the locations are not that exciting, I still managed to feel like I was in another country. The opening scene where the family walks through the English countryside was also breathtaking. The colors, the mood, and the sense of dread were all there and I was really hoping to see some English gardens or at least a moat. Maybe the filmmakers thought these things were too expensive to film and chose to have the English countryside look like the London outskirts? We will never know. The settings were quite effective but again, maybe a little underwhelming. I would have liked to have seen more English country estates, palaces, and whatnot. I mean, this movie takes place in the 1950s so the palaces had to be upgraded to six-star hotels, no questions asked!