R–Patz ditches Twilight, effectively trading one circus for another.
Twi–hards, stop here — Robert Pattinson is no longer just Edward Cullen. Yes, he continues to brood and pine for an ethereal beauty, but there’s a depth to his performance in Water for Elephants that’s beyond vampiric.
Upon learning about the death of his parents, Cornell veterinary student Jacob (Pattinson) joins a Depression–era traveling circus where he meets — and subsequently falls in love with — the beautiful star Marlena (Witherspoon). As Jacob and Marlena develop a new show–saving act centered around graceful elephant Rosie, they are brought closer together, much to the chagrin of animal trainer August (Waltz), who happens to be Marlena’s husband.
Director Lawrence makes a strong effort to preserve the magical sensibility that caused Sara Gruen’s original novel to be so popular. Swooping shots of life under the big top — courtesy of famed cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto — and an enhanced focus on the relationship between Jacob and Marlena augment the wonder and charm that pervade the narrative.
But while Water for Elephants does manage to highlight the near–angelic beauty of its main actors, the film suffers from a slow pace that not even Marlena’s balletic movements can save. There are no scenes that truly stand out as powerful or striking, and even the most dramatic of moments — which all involve elephant cruelty — blur together like a tapestry of recollections on circus life.
There’s also a stiltedness surrounding the film’s main actors that makes Water for Elephants almost jerky to watch, a jarring contrast to the intended fluidity of the film’s action and cinematography. Witherspoon switches between a Southern and affected stage accent throughout, and Hal Holbrook (as an older Jacob) delivers his lines like there’s a teleprompter right off screen. Waltz delivers the film’s most compelling performance, although it seems like he merely transplanted his Oscar–winning Nazi persona (from Inglourious Basterds) into a circus setting.
Fans of Gruen’s best–selling novel will note a few major changes have been made to the film’s characters. But they help to add clarity for viewers unfamiliar with the story, and in the end, the movie appeals to the same demographic as the book. Water for Elephants is neither Pulitzer nor pulp and will please those looking for a literary film that has the feel–good rewards of an Oscar pick with considerably less pretension.
Besides, Pattinson really does look good in a tux.
Water for Elephants
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz
Rated PG–13, 122 min.