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'Water for Elephants' review: Star attraction is the acting

April 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
"Water for Elephants," based on a best-selling novel, was released in theaters Friday. If you read the book, you will have expectations. We always do. But I did not read it and I went in not knowing a thing about the story. I did know it features actors I admire, and that's always a hook for me.

"Water for Elephants" takes place in the 1930s. Christoph Waltz plays the sometimes nasty owner of a second-rate travelling circus. The new employee, Robert Pattinson, may not last in his job taking care of the animals since it seems he'd rather take care of the headliner and owner's wife, played by Reese Witherspoon.

Witherspoon is just luminous in her role. She channels this bygone era very well and you can feel her love and her pain as the story plays out.

Pattinson continues to impress outside the world of "Twilight." In this movie, he's a gentle wounded soul, a role Hal Holbrook plays brilliantly in the character's later years.

And Waltz just knows how to assert that inner evil.

There is plenty of drama in "Water for Elephants." And I will tell you scenes the studio has not released involving violence against the elephant play out in a very disturbing manner, even though they were manufactured with the help of high-tech special effects.

This movie is sometimes sad, sometimes makes you cringe and always makes you hope for a happy ending. I won't tell you whether or not you get it, but I will say you are likely to tense up more than once watching.

The star attraction of "Water for Elephants" is really the acting. During moments when the story didn't grab me, the performances did.