WATER FOR ELEPHANTS Review

I have been looking forward to "Water for Elephants" with a good amount of anticipation. I love the time period and the whole atmosphere with which this movie was set, I enjoy a grand love story, a kind of throw back to the golden age of Hollywood. The film has a few just outstanding things going for it. Besides those I've already mentioned it also has a great performance by Christoph Waltz, once again capitalizing on his ability to play a man of such evil intent that oozes charm. The film also looks gorgeous, the lush colors of early fall overcast with a time tainted yellow that makes everything feel more genuine. And while this really is an engaging love story that also features Robert "Twilight" Pattinson spreading his wings and proving he can play more than teen angst as well as the always lovely Reese Witherspoon, it is sometimes hard to believe in them as a romantic couple. The film spends too much building up the need for them to take down August (Waltz) and not enough on why Reese and R. Patts are so right for one another.


In the beginning Jacob Jankowski is a young man ready to graduate veterinary school and take on the world, of course all of that changes when his parents die in a car crash and he is forced to leave everything he knew behind. Hopping on the first train that comes by, Jacob stumbles upon the Benzini Brothers circus where he is able to get work, eventually being able to work up the ladder to meet the boss and become the caretaker for the animals. It is once he gets to this point he first lays eyes on Marlena and first gets to know Rosie. As the star attraction and wife of the ring master, Marlena is an untouchable entity. I have not finished reading Sara Gruen's novel from which this film is based (though I had hoped to before the movie came out, oh well) but I can only hope that spark between Jacob and Marlena is ever-present from the first moment they meet. In the film we get a sense of it, but I feel that is only because we know, inevitably, that is where this film is going even if there were no chemistry whatsoever. This misunderstanding of attraction between the two leads is made up for when August acquires Rosie, an elephant, as the new main attraction in his show. I'm not sure if it is a bad sign when the relationship between Rosie and her famous co-stars is more evident than it ever is between just the two of them, but through her actions and the hatred August projects on her she becomes the real star of the film, the real reason this is a satisfying romance. As weird as it may sound, it is totally true.

The worse part of this miscalculated romance is how much it seems to slow down and otherwise entertaining film. With its huge spectacle and grand odes to classic screen shots, it is more fulfilling to simply experience it rather than dig into the content of it all. At times, "Water for Elephants" drags a bit too much, making this affair seem longer than it should and therefore causing some unwanted side thoughts about "How long is it going to take before Christoph Waltz gets back on screen?" Director Francis Lawrence has concocted a very elegant piece of cinema, and I would give him everything but the main ingredient not working in his favor. One has to wonder, with so much feeling authentic and ,magical why is the only thing missing that spark of true romance between the two big movie stars? This is a movie that wants to remind of us those films of old we all hear about where the camera closes in and we see two huge faces meet for a kiss we have waited the entire picture to see. That is the intention of every other aspect of this movie. That setting, the cinematography, the grandly exquisite soundtrack that sweeps us into the moment with these characters. But as they meet lips, nothing happens. Sure, they are pretty, but it doesn't mean anything to us, and it really should after all they went through to be together, it really should mean more.

I can't even put my finger on what could have made it better, but it must be noted the opening and closing moments of the film that feature Hal Holbrook as an older Jacob are the only true times we feel that Jacob and Marlena really did love one another. That may sound like I'm calling Pattinson ineffective, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by his work here. He is still to stoic and doesn't have the ability to express all that is going on in his mind through his facial expressions, but I feel like it's there somewhere and I certainly won't blame the guy for trying. This is a solid effort to show he is more than Edward, even though "Water for Elephants" should really have no correlation with "Twilight" at all. And though it may sound as if I've heavily criticized this film for its lack of romantic justification for all the struggles we see these characters face, know that this isn't a bad movie. It is just missing that certain something. It's like eating off a buffet but with the restriction of not being able to get your favorite dish. The meal is still good, it just doesn't feel complete without that one element.