Water for Elephants
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
Running Time: 2 hrs 2 mins
Release Date: April 22, 2011
PLOT: Tragedy strikes, and Jacob (Pattinson) runs away and joins the circus. His veterinary skills come in handy, but he gets tangled up with the evil owner (Waltz) and his beautiful wife (Witherspoon).
WHO’S IT FOR? Seriously? Reread the description. You know. There are few surprises and it eeks out the proper drama in a big Hollywood kind of way. Liking the circus will definitely help. If you worship Pattinson, you don’t need this (or any) review to help you decide.
EXPECTATIONS: I just wanted a good movie. This is my first live-action big screen moment in three weeks (I was in Africa). Normally three weeks equals eight to nine movies, so I was eager.
Robert Pattinson as Jacob: He’s good. You can easily see why the ladies on the train throw themselves at him. I have noticed something quite obvious with the Pattinson school of acting … his pursed look-away. He does it to show angst. Some moment will happen, and he won’t be able to look the woman in the eye. He instead squints and look to her side. Just saying. Anyway, Jacob runs away in the beginning and then stays with the circus. We don’t get great motivations for that, but Pattinson definitely fits in to the time period.
P.S. I love the idea that some teenage girl is really going to be mentally and emotionally tested with having to endure listening to Pattinson being called Jacob for two hours. For those lucky enough not to know, Jacob is the name of his rival in the Twilight series.
Christoph Waltz as August: Waltz was deliciously evil in Inglourious Basterds. He was so sugary sweet in how he tore others down piece by piece. Here, August is cruel. Excessively cruel. We get it. You’re a dick. There was a “show must go on” moment with Jacob early on. I needed that, and then some. If this character would have shown more excessive, obsessive passion for the circus, that could have properly clouded everything else. Look, taking one swing at a helpless animal will get everyone against you. So are the 50 additional swings necessary? I didn’t think so. I think Waltz needs to do comedy next. And no, Green Hornet doesn’t count.
Reese Witherspoon as Marlena: Her beauty translates so easily to the ’30s you wonder why she doesn’t live in period pieces. Here, she’s pretty much a damsel in distress. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I guess we don’t need much else besides her passion and beauty, but one specific moment to hook Jacob would have been nice. Her foster child backstory is sympathetic, but the main reason she needs out is because Jacob is in.
Rest of Cast: It didn’t feel like we got to know the others. I’m mainly talking about the performers. Think about it. You run into a guy at a party who says he used to work for the circus, you’re sitting down and listening to stories all night, right? Well, where were the moments for the fat and/or bearded lady, the trapeze artists and the strongest man? It feels like a missed opportunity to instead have some old guy, a little person and a dog.
TALKING: We begin with an old man telling stories. Luckily, that old man is Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild). Otherwise, this would have had Titanic written all over it. Jacob narrates most of his story and there are many lines that are either “hokey” or “hope.” You decide, “I didn’t know if I picked that train or that train picked me.” Plus, Waltz on rare times seems to be almost incoherent with that accent. Does anyone know what the hippo story was that he told? There are also moments when they are trying to set the stage for the historical period that make the movie come to a quick halt (Depression, Prohibition).
SIGHTS: It’s grand (heavy sigh). That’s right. I said grand. Who doesn’t want to see the 1930s circus. The clothes are classic. Most importantly, it does feel like Jacob has joined the circus. The train and animals all look great. It wasn’t until the very end where it looks like the animals are CGI’ed into the scene.
SOUNDS: It’s exactly what you would expect from a Disney or Universal broad drama full of hope. Jacob and Marlena have a couple of playful moments with song titles. Otherwise, I didn’t feel there was much music in the film. I can’t believe they never stayed up late singing. That’s what I would do if I joined the circus.
BEST SCENE: When Jacob finally figures out the trick to train the elephant it’s fun and great to see the beast show off her moves.
ENDING: Doesn’t it feel like they gloss over it? First of all, it seems like there would be carnage, right? Yet everyone is happy about that. Plus, the montage didn’t make me swoon, it was just nice.
QUESTIONS: Seriously. graduate. Why wouldn’t you Jacob? It’s clearly the only thing your parents wanted for you and you loved and respected them. You can move anywhere afterwords just to get away, but GRADUATE! Also, after surviving the whole movie without having to superimpose animals into shots, why not figure out a way to avoid that at all costs in the end?
REWATCHABILITY: I think the pacing is just a little too slow, and the love story is a little too typical to go back for a second viewing.
Wanting to run away to the circus and having to run away are two totally different things. We want to, Jacob should have to. “I didn’t see the point of going back to school.” Um, really? That’s Jacob’s reason to hop on a train? Perhaps the best-selling book explains it better, but that wasn’t quite enough motivation for me.
Once at the circus, the joys and wonder are there, but an over-the-big-top evil villain keeps getting in our way. It’s almost as if August shows his fangs too early. We couldn’t hang out with the clowns and let Jacob have some moments of peace. That would have been nice.
While I was surprised once or twice by the script, Water for Elephants feels like one of those typical Hollywood fluffy dramas. The love story is very predictable, and many moments seems obvious before they happen. There’s not much “wrong” with that, but the best thing this movie has going for it is the environment. A 1930s circus is a great backdrop for a romance. I just wanted everything to be a little bit bigger, like the actual circus.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10