Water for Elephants

A young veterinary student jumps aboard a moving circus train and is subsequently hired to care for the animals.  Rather pedestrian tale of forbidden love is instantly predictable when the three main characters in this love triangle are introduced.  That’s not necessarily an issue if we’re presented with believable personalities.  Robert Pattinson is Jacob Jankowski, the young veterinarian at the center of the story.  A vacant performance, Pattison has got James Dean’s squinty introspective pout, but none of the legend’s magnetism behind it.  The character is shockingly passive, an almost lifeless shell of a man.   Or make that a boy.  All male model style, but little passionate substance.  His stoicism is in direct contrast to August, the violent, abusive owner of the circus assertively played by Christoph Waltz.  Every time August is onscreen we cannot look away from his personality.  Frequently wicked, occasionally charming, he has a commanding presence.  A violent man, he routinely has circus workers thrown off the moving train in the middle of the night to avoid paying them.  Which begs the question, why do these people stick around?  Why doesn’t someone fight back?  That those questions are not addressed are but two of many that belie the characters inexplicable behavior.  That brings us to Reese Witherspoon as Marlena.  Her relationship with August never really adds up and her romance with Jacob lacks the needed chemistry required for us to believe she has fallen deeply in love.  It’s telling that the most credible character with any depth is played by an animal.  She has more chemistry with Rosie the elephant, than with any of her human co-stars.  Rosie is the single most likable character in the film. The atmosphere is captivating as well.  The cinematography is beautiful.  Director Francis Lawrence nicely captures the retro charm of a circus in the 1930s.  James Newton Howard’s lush score is enchanting.  Its fanciful quality captures the romantic mood of a bygone era.  Nice mood is not a justification for a 122 minute epic, however .  The slow moving story lacks the dramatic thrust or romantic fire needed to sustain the story’s bloated running time.  At best, an exquisite disappointment.

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12 Responses to “Water for Elephants”

  1. Markus Robinson Says:

    Ok, I agree with pretty much everything you said. Makes me wonder why I gave this film so many stars haha. Great reaview as always.

    • I saw you gave it 4 stars which gave me high expectations. I didn’t hate it, but the love story didn’t affect me at all. Christoph Waltz was good though. Rosie the elephant was sweet.

  2. I guess if you have to explain the reasons why certain things happened, it’s not good writing. I figured, during the “Great depression”, people took chances to make money, even if there was a chance of getting thrown off a train. Jacob was a man who lost his parents and had nothing. Why would he have to be a strong person, he had nothing. I wanted a lot more Rosie. I felt the most emotion towards her, I needed more. Was it great, no, but I liked it.

    • *** SPOILERS ***

      The Great Depression was horrible, yes, but people still had a passion for life. No matter how bad you needed money, I doubt few would risk their lives working for a man like August. Rosie was the most human of the characters. Sweet and lovable. She wasn’t willing to take the abuse. Good for her!

      • Rosie was incredibly “human” in the book. She was the heart and soul of the book that literally held everyone, esp Jacob, Marlena, the existence of the troupe, and even August, together with hope. Everyone just had different versions of it was all. Truly, the book was magical.

  3. Just what I expected. A lot of style but very little substance. It’ll open here next week; I’ll check it out so I can make my own decision but, really, what can we expect from a movie with Robert Pattinson?

    • I know, right?! I always gave him the benefit of the doubt because the Twilight movies are well, not particularly deep. But this movie makes me feel Pattinson is all fashion model fascade. Where is the personality dude! That’s Reese…she’s beautiful. Show some passion!

      • Rosie WAS indeed the most human character in the book. She provided hope and the glue for all the characters, esp Jacob and Marlena, the circus troupe and even August, just all in different ways. Yes, the amount of conviction for passion and the need to survive was almost palatable in the book version. Movie version, you coined it with your description of Pattison’s portrayal. Lack of chemistry between all the actors really did a dis service to this movie adaptation.

  4. I love Reese! I was able to sit through How Do You Know because of her.

  5. You coined it right on the money Mark with “Pattison has got James Dean’s squinty introspective pout, but none of the legend’s magnetism behind it. The character is shockingly passive, an almost lifeless shell of a man.” The Jacob in the book wasn’t like this. The characters literally jumped out of the book and became such vivid incarnations in your imagination that you literally were a stowaway vagabond circus worker hopeful yourself for the adventure of a lifetime!

  6. and very true, Reece never had chemistry with either of her men. I understood the motivation of each of the characters due to having read the book which was NEVER translated well onto the silver screen.

    • I think, for the most part, the book is usually better than the movie because well written words can make a character come to life in your mind better than an actor can make them come alive in the flesh. Perhaps this is the reason why J. D. Salinger never allowed anyone to adapt “The Catcher in the Rye” into a film. Of course there are many exceptions, i.e. The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, where the movie clearly tops the book.

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