Water for Elephants
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
Running Time: 2 hrs
Release Date: April 22, 2011
PLOT: After his parents die in a car accident, veterinarian Jacob runs away and joins the circus. While taking care of the animals, he becomes friends with the ringmaster (Waltz), and falls in love with his main attraction wife (Witherspoon).
WHO’S IT FOR?: Those who are ready to watch Pattinson play a lovable ruffian, with or without having read the book. More directly, this is for people who believe in the ethical treatment of animals, but I’m not talking about PETA.
EXPECTATIONS: Though I haven’t read the original book in my non-existent book club, I do support the casting. Pattinson stepped out of Twilight’s shadow enough in Remember Me, and Waltz was 2-0 in my book when it came to his streak in performing for American movies.
Robert Pattinson as Jacob: He fights for the sake of love. Not just to justify his reason for casting (“handsome” looks), but also to take care of every animal and mistreated circus-wife in the land. With this dedication to love, he speaks softly and carries himself with a rag-tag ruggishness. And don’t worry, he still fulfills his “heartthrob quota” with a shirtless moment that leads to a PG-13 sex scene. Hardly stretching himself into significant dramatic territory, Pattinson is a bit lackluster here, adding no finesse to the general position of “primary love interest.”
Reese Witherspoon as Marlena: Adding to the film’s “classic” visual tendencies, Marlena glows like an old movie star, with her general costuming and lighting sometimes making her hair appear more white than blonde. As for a performance, this certainly isn’t one of Witherspoon’s classic roles, as she is fairly forgettable in this position as a reluctant wife to the crazy ringmaster. It’s not a character worth fighting for.
Christoph Waltz as August: This latest crazy-guy from Christoph Waltz is tragic, but not because of what happens in the story. It’s more because of the idea that Waltz hasn’t reached much out of his role in Inglourious Basterds since getting his Oscar, and here is the first time where his nuttiness doesn’t work. Like a watered-down version of Hans Landa, ringleader August mixes passiveness with explosive moments of anger, manipulates people to his evil benefit, and even chokes a woman in a particular scene. Perhaps the character in the book is more alluring with some shadiness, but Waltz’s rendition lacks such mystery, as the clues have been laid out by his previous noted performances.
TALKING: Even with emotions like anger and lust flying throughout their story, these three characters lack chemistry. The dialogue is certainly to blame for a part of this flatness, as the heated exchanges between characters never really pop with emotion or adrenaline. Only one bit of Waltz’s dialogue is memorable, his belief that “the world is run by tricks, and everyone plays.”
SIGHTS: One of the best features of this film is its presentation of the circus life, which is full and detailed. A handful of montages tell of the many events and duties that happen within an entire circus, while the production design doesn’t hold back in making things look big and entirely believable. The wonder of the circus is shown best in these instances than in any other aspect of the film – even the usage of elephants is something to behold whether in real life or just on the silver screen.
SOUNDS: James Newton Howard’s admittedly mediocre score is in awe of the mystery behind the circus, further romanticizing the story with music box like melodies. The Water for Elephants soundtrack is also sprinkled with a few popular songs from the period, like “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You.”
BEST SCENE: The first montage, which has Jacob working the odd jobs of the circus, is amusing and full of a tangible passion for showing what a circus is like.
ENDING: “The oldest person to run away with the circus.” While I didn’t much care for what seemed like a lazy framing device, I did like that line.
QUESTIONS: Was Reese Witherspoon really on top of those elephants? Is this moral of this story that adultery is okay but treating animals badly isn’t? And of course, as with all literary adaptations, is there anything important that made the book so good that is missing in the feature?
REWATCHABILITY: No thanks. I know I wouldn’t last a second viewing of this one without taking a nap. And if I want to feel more of the film’s circus magic, I’ll just hit up Wikipedia or a history book.
Behold! As two Oscar-winning actors and a wannabe serious actor combine their magical star powers to create on-screen chemistry that never improved since the table reading. Be astonished by the pretty faces that spew drab dialogue with one another, creating an unreal love triangle of dull corners! Be bored at the sight of Robert Pattinson loving animals, while watching Christoph Waltz continue to work himself into one box, and refusing to step out! Feel your jaws crash to the floor as we bring you lackluster lust, brief spontaneous fist fights, and Robert Pattinson taking care of an elephant! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Twilighters and book club members, witness (!) the not-so-wonderful movie wonderment of Water for Elephants.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10