WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (2011)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, James Frain, Paul Schneider, Hal Holbrook, Tim Guinee
RunTime: 2 hrs 2mins
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Official Website: http://www.waterforelephants.com/
Opening Day: 5 May 2011
Synopsis: During the Great Depression, Jacob, a penniless 23-year-old veterinary school student, parlays his expertise with animals into a job with a second-rate traveling circus. He falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers, but their romance is complicated by Marlena's husband, the charismatic but unbalanced circus boss.
No, you are not reading a review written by a Robert Pattinson fan. But yes, this columnist gives credit where it is due. And for the record, the man who has made the millions of girls crazy with his soulless portrayal of a charming (but frighteningly pale) vampire can actually deliver a decent performance.
At least that is what we can tell from this film adaptation based on Sara Gruen’s 2006 novel of the same name.
Here, Robert Pattinson discards the white foundation and plays a young man who finds himself on a rickety train after fate surprises him with an unkind twist of events. The train is home to a circus troupe and the veterinary student is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. He also meets the charismatic but violent owner of the circus, and his beautiful wife who happens to be the equestrian star of the traveling shows. It is also on this journey he meets an untrained elephant who will become the hope for the fading troupe.
If you ask us, the film does not do much justice to the title of Gruen’s award winning historical novel. Sure, we got the part about the elephants, but where’s the significance of water in the film? We understand (without having read the book) that water is a symbol of purification and self worth, and is portrayed many times in the novel, but we are guessing that director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine) was more concerned about how to make this 122 minute production look beautiful on screen.
Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Babel, Brokeback Mountain) captures the splendour and magic of a bygone era on his lens. With the story taking place in the 1930s, the Great Depression never looked so good on film. With production design, art direction and set decoration by Jack Fisk, David Crank and Jim Erickson (the trio worked on 2007’s There Will Be Blood), and a wondrous score composed by James Newton Howard (The Last Airbender), it is evident that an elite team has been gathered to ensure that production values are top notch. The effort and talent from the production team is evident in the mesmerising and skillfully created scenes. Be prepared to be transported to a world of spectacle and adventure where circus animals and acrobatic acts enthrall.
We don’t mean to point fingers, but the problem does seem to lie with the somewhat unexciting storyline where the character development is predictably dull, and the story plays out in the most conventional way one can imagine (cue a white haired old man reminiscing about his glorious past). It may have helped if there was more chemistry amongst the protagonists too – Pattinson and leading lady Reese Witherspoon (Oscar winner for 2005’s Walk the Line) seem to be playing it safe as the couple embarking on a journey of forbidden love. The sparks between the two are minimal and as good looking as they are individually, the pairing just doesn’t seem to work.
Austria born actor Christoph Waltz (Oscar winner for 2009’s Inglourious Basterds) takes on another Hollywood role and manages to outshine his fellow cast members. His portrayal as Witherspoon’s husband is charming and brutal at the same time. The violent and abusive owner of the circus is a paranoid schizophrenic, and Waltz effortlessly portrays the role so well that audiences can fall in love with his charisma one moment, and loathe his offensive behaviour the next.
Unfortunately, the fine performance by the multi award winning actor isn’t enough to elevate the overstretched movie to a level of spectacle a traveling circus show promises.
(The movie is pretty to look at, and Christoph Waltz delivers yet another fine performance – but that’s about it)
Review by John Li
You might also like: