Directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend)
Starring: Reese Witherspoon (Walk The Line), Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Paul Schneider (Lars and the Real Girl), Jim Norton (Harry Potter), Hal Holbrook (Into The Wild)
Based on the acclaimed bestseller by Sara Gruen, Water For Elephants congers up a love triangle between three compelling characters in the unique setting of a 1931 traveling circus. Jacob, a suddenly orphaned Veterinary school student, hits the road to find his place in the world and winds up falling in love with Marlena, the star performer and wife of charismatic circus owner August.
The three main characters, played by the beautiful Reese Witherspoon, the simmering Robert Pattinson and the menacing Christoph Waltz each added great verve and style to this depression-era drama as it travels down the rails at a cozy enough pace to please anyone. Credit for that should go to screenwriter Richard LaGravense, who I’m sure watched batches of early 30s films before whittling down the book into a comfortable running time. In places it reminded me of the 1952 Cecil B. Demille film The Greatest Show On Earth, but without the scope and energy that film brought us.
Told as a tale of his early life by the ever interesting Hal Holbrook, the rough and jagged world of these circus people, who live by their own laws in a kind of self-contained poverty and brutality, seemed to actually conjure up the place, time and characters that occupied this bygone era. It was pretty to watch and the story had enough to it to keep me interested, but the film ultimately fails with the love story.
The heat that should have been there between the two lovers was one of imagination rather than passion. Pattinson, who walks the screen like a zombie most of the time, was actually more animated in this movie than in other films he’s done, but unfortunately even the supremely talented Witherspoon couldn’t turn this pretty lump into a great screen lover, and that is a pure shame because she certainly brings the heat.
I blame a lot of what’s wrong with Water For Elephants on director Lawrence who paints pretty pictures, and pretty leading characters, but appears to hate the circus and its performers. He clumsily emphasizes the ugliness of everything and concentrates on filling it with moments of unflinching violence. He should have toned it down and spent more time on the show’s performers who were virtually ignored.
You should however enjoy this film. It’s a trip back in time with interesting characters at a place we haven’t seen on screen in a very long time. I suggest you take your best girl to this one, despite the flaws she’ll love it, especially if she’s read the book.
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Water For Elephants is rated PG-13. Running time: 1:57