Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, “Twilight” lovers of all ages! Step right up for a filmmaking spectacular that will leave you dazzled, romantically satisfied and all-the-more confident that Robert Pattinson cannot act but can look dang good while (not) doing it.
Whether your faith lies with Robert Pattinson and his every cinematic move, or with Sara Gruen’s gritty and romantic historic novel, the film adaptation of “Water for Elephants” does not disappoint.
“Water for Elephants” (Francis Lawrence, “I Am Legend”) tells the story of the Benzini Brothers Circus as it trudges it’s way through the Great Depression, bringing hope and spectacle to the dreary lives of children and families throughout the country. Told through the brooding eyes of Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson, “Remember Me”) using the familiar “old-man-reflects-on-his-life” formula of “Big Fish,” the film focuses on the slowly building love-triangle between Jacob, the ravishing star of the circus, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon, “How Do You Know?”) and her psychopathic husband, and ringleader of the circus, August (Christoph Waltz, “The Green Hornet”).
The film prepares the audience for spectacle right from the beginning, as a 93-year-old Jacob tells the story of the Benzini Brothers Circus catastrophe to a young circus manager, who notes its status as one of the greatest show-business disasters of all time. And although the intrigue of the story’s introduction fizzles at certain slow points, the film offers a fairly consistent amount of entertainment from the enchanting sets and costumes to the whimsical score courtesy of James Newton Howard.
In particular, performances from Witherspoon and Waltz keep the momentum of the film going, while Pattinson fades into the background as a pretty little prop. As a leading man, Pattinson’s inexperience and failure to express emotion on that ruggedly charming face of his is a poor excuse for the complex and compassionate character in Gruen’s novel.
Luckily, Pattinson is safely cushioned between two Academy Award-winning actors, so all he has to do is look really really ridiculously good looking. Which he accomplishes effortlessly. Amen to those golden locks and crooked smile.
Waltz takes the cake as star of the show, delivering a chilling and unsettling performance as the abusive ringleader of the Benzini circus. Incorporating the manic tendencies of Colonel Hans Landa (“Inglourious Basterds”) into his role, Waltz has become a master of malice in performances that make us both intrigued and terrified to look him in the eye.
As his wife, Witherspoon starts on a promising note, perfecting the balance between superiority over Jacob and curiosity toward his compassion for the animals. However, as their “romance” attempts to blossom over the course of the film, the chemistry between the two actors is strained. As actors, their difference in status is far too prominent to overlook, giving the relationship an unrealistic and perplexing tone that is as potent as elephant dung.
And while most of the actors bring Gruen’s characters to life on screen, the film’s greatest strengths fall under director Francis Lawrence’s attention to the film as a period piece. Incorporating aspects of prohibition, the Great Depression and the lavish spirit of the Roaring ’20s, much of the film’s spirit emerges in these moments of historic awareness.
From the costumes to the sets, Lawrence creates an energy out of what is left unsaid, wrapping the story and its actors in a glittery spectacle that the illusion of the circus can never truly express. And while fans of Gruen’s novel might be disappointed with the omitted grittiness and passion of the novel, the film’s attention to the overarching theme of spectacle and magic makes the cinematic journey worthwhile.
4 out of 5 stars