I hate reviews that give away or even hint at a movie's ending. Yet, I find it impossible to review Water for Elephants without telling you, my readers, how I feel about the final act. If you'd rather not have a preview of the finale, then cease reading now.
I didn't read the best-selling novel on which the movie is based, as I cannot tolerate reading about cruelty to animals -- even a fictional telling of such. But, my mother, with whom I saw the movie, did read the book. And, she made sure we both had extra Kleenex with us for the waterworks the film adaptation was sure to draw forth.
They went unused.
The movie ending is, apparently, different from the book ending. And it feels out of place even to someone who didn't read the book. In fact, it's so incongruous that I suspect the film studio filmed two or three different endings and "focus grouped" them to see which audiences loved best. The movie hints at and builds up to a tragedy that never happens. I'm no fan of unnecessary tragedy, but I felt cheated that I was kind of promised one and didn't get it.
Hollywood has definitely had its way with what was supposed to be an animal lovers' version of a forbidden love triangle.
I don't mean to take anything away from the luminous Reese Witherspoon or her equally dazzling leading man (Robert Pattinson). Both are wonderfully wounded as people who have nowhere to go but a traveling circus. Christoph Waltz is a great, animal- and spouse-abusing villain. The cinematography is lovely. The pacing feels right -- except for that tacked-on ending. The costumes, make-up and hair are all spot-on.
If you think it's all about the journey and not so much about the destination, you may find plenty to admire in this visually glorious film. If you prefer an ending that feels like it was meant for the 115 minutes that preceded it, then ... Skip it.