So even though Rio won at the box office again this weekend, I’m betting yesterday’s Easter candy that any number of you broke down and saw Water For Elephants, right? You just couldn’t resist a bestselling book, a sweeping epic period piece, and at least three adorable creatures (1. Rosie the elephant, 2. Queenie the Jack Russell Terrier, and 3. Robert Pattinson). Now, if you didn’t happen to catch it, I’ll fill you in a teensy bit but I won’t spoil it. First up, there’s something you should know about this film. There are no space ships, zombies, ghosts, hidden killers, intergalactic battles, pole dances, hockey masks, or lethal ballerinas. It’s a big old-fashioned tale about a couple of down-on-their luck stock characters trying desperately to make it in a very bleak time. Set during the Depression, the film version has been swiftly edited at the expense of some of the more colorful players who don’t appear onscreen (hey, that’s what books are for) and focuses strictly on a love triangle set inside a traveling circus. Right out of the gate, the movie’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s just stunning and despite a few glitches (one of them appears to have happened during casting) I was completely swept up and pretty enchanted. Pattinson is a young veterinary student who finds himself along for the ride with Christoph Waltz’s evil ringmaster, and the object of both men’s affections, Reese Witherspoon. The circus is struggling, people are getting thrown out of work (literally) and the only hope for survival is the purchase of an extraordinary pachyderm who could maybe turn everyone’s fortune around. You will probably tear up, and you will root and cheer, and it may not be the best movie around but it’s certainly an engrossing story with great work from Waltz, Pattinson and Hal Holbrook.
Let me first say that when the movie concludes you may wonder if either Waltz or Pattinson might have been better off pursuing the affections of, say, one of the Big Top’s big cats – or even the aforementioned adorable elephant. Normally I’m a Reese fan, but here she was a bit lifeless and perhaps even demi-human. As if the director had said “You’re getting married this spring, Reese. Take it easy and just look pretty.” It doesn’t seem like he said much else; although to be fair she is a) lovely and b) playing a circus performer swept off the mean streets by an even meaner man. There’s just not so much chemistry. Pattinson does what he can, but their assignations pack all the heat of a lazy picnic’s forgotten Waldorf salad. This is somehow not so important, though, because the real story here is about a young man coming into his own, and Christoph Waltz (who reminds us easily and psychotically whenever he’s onscreen just why that Inglorious Basterds’ Oscar is his.) In fact, you can distill it down to a Good Guy, a Bad Guy, and a Really Intuitive Elephant. In addition, anyone who thought RPattz’s Twilight pheenom was a fluke will note that the guy can totally act. Now without spoiling anything, there are moments when Waltz goes after the elephant where you will NOT want to be watching. So avert your eyes and know too, that the filmmakers have explained all violence was CGI-based and that no creature got the short end of any actual stick.
Water For Elephants is totally worth a trip to the cineplex. It will also most certainly be one of those movies playing on TV years hence and you stop on the channel just to catch a peek and you’re totally hooked. It’s just that kind of movie. And Reese isn’t so bad, it’s just that the men are better. And the elephant is really, really tops.
1) Jacob (RP)
2) August (CW)
3) Marlena (RW)
4) Rosie (elephant)