Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Romance, Drama
Opens locally Friday, April 22nd, 2011
Run Time: 2 hours, 1 minutes
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Paul Schneider
Directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine)
“Water for Elephants” the movie, is based on the popular novel of the same name by author Sara Gruen. She has been said to have modeled the tale after the story of Jacob in the Book of Genesis, thus our main character’s name, Jacob Jankowski. Told in a flashback, it is a love story set in the 1930s as part of a traveling circus. Unfortunately, never having read the book, I’m not sure I’d be compelled to after seeing the film…while despite some worthy acting efforts, “Water for Elephants” moves at an elephant’s pace.
The Plot (of the film). Jacob (known best as vampire Edward from the “Twilight” films) is a veterinary student who’s schooling is cut short after a family tragedy. He takes to the road and ends up hitching a ride on a train, which just so happens to be the traveling Benzini Brothers Circus. As you could imagine, a circus contains a wide range of colorful characters in which Jacob gets the chance to meet and interact with. He meets Marlena (Witherspoon) and falls in love…only problem, she is married to August (Christoph Waltz, the “Inglourious Basterds” Nazi villain), the intimidating head honcho of the show.
Similarities to the Book. From what I hear and read, the movie stays faithful to the book in several ways, with most of the memorable climactic scenes intact. Gone is the character of “Uncle Al,” the owner of the circus in the book. His character is merged into August, a ruthless yet charming thug played perfectly by Waltz, who seems to always operate with more than a few screws loose. I’d imagine several characters getting much more to do and say in the book as well, as there were many characters introduced in the film given only fleeting scenes.
Circus Act. If this movie is remembered for nothing else, it will be that Robert Pattinson shows off a bit of acting talent. He is a bona fide leading man, and I respect his cold and monotone performance as a vampire (in “Twilight”) even more now that I see he was actually “acting” cold and monotone. He has OK chemistry with Reece Witherspoon, whom I love but seems oddly out of place as a circus-goer. And while Waltz is always fascinating, his bad guys are starting to all act eerily similar.
Dumbo. But where “Water for Elephants” fails is in the pacing. For a movie set at a circus, it may be the least bit of fun I’ve ever had at the movies. I’m not sure if some of the dialogue worked better in the book, or if the screenplay was written anew, but there are a lot of cheesy eye-roll-inducing moments of dramatic over-kill. There are also some intensely shocking moments of animal cruelty…a film that should make sure uses bold print in the credits when it assures us that “no animals were harmed in the making of this film.”
Bottom Line. So if you read the book or are a fan of Robert Pattinson, I think you’d have an enjoyable time. It’s not that the movie is bad or poorly executed, it’s just that it’s not very memorable. I didn’t quite care for the over-the-big-top dramatic clichés woven throughout, and the elephant in the room for me was that I just didn’t feel connected to the by-the-book approach given to this worn out love story. But sometimes “by-the-book” is exactly what the director sets out to do, especially when bringing a novel to the screen…I just wish it would have included a few additional pages to make our trip to the circus a bit more fun.
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