22 April 2011
The Circus has been a wondrous spectacle and magical show ever since ancient Rome. They have been larger than life shows and sights unlike anything else on Earth, but nowadays not exactly the premiere form of entertainment. However, a little film from 20th Century Fox is showing us what it was once like during the 1930’s depression and how the Circus was a big part of people’s lives. “Water for Elephants” takes the audience back in time for a story about people and animals and the interactions of both.
“Water…” stars Robert Pattinson (Twilight) as Jacob, a young Polish-born college student who is about to graduate a veterinarian but drops out when his parents die in a car accident and he can’t keep his own house. Penniless and nowhere to go, he begins a young life as an educated drifter, until a train happens by chance to come by. Throwing aside his suitcase, Jacob jumps on the train in hopes of it going somewhere, but instead is nearly thrown back off by a bunch of tough guys! Fortunately he’s not thrown off, and if offered a job. What Jacob doesn’t realize is that this train carries the famed Benzini Brothers Circus, and with all the exotic animals around he’s found the job of a lifetime. He soon meets the show’s leading lady Marlena, played by Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon (Vanity Fair ,Walk the Line), who is very gifted with horses and a newly acquired Indian elephant named Rosie. Jacob and Marlena start out as close colleagues, then as expected get much closer. This is a major problem, because she is already married to the show’s ringleader August, a cruel and sinister Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, The Three Musketeers). August only cares for himself and his show, so much that he’ll throw employees off the moving train to their death just to maintain his lavish lifestyle. With sadistic bosses, no money, and a love affair to deal with, Jacob has to fight for what he believes is right.
Despite all the story, this actually opens on modern day when actor Hal Holbrook plays a 90-year old Jacob stares in wonder at another circus moved with semi trucks. This deviates a little from the book by Sara Gruen, but it’s not a problem. In fact the directing by Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) is inspired and well done. The circus shows are all quite brief but fun nonetheless. Of course the real star gets her name in the title; Rosie the elephant is played by 42-year old Tai with jaw-dropping skill. If animals could win performance awards in motion pictures, her acting would be at the top (she even does a handstand while taking directions in Polish!). While the production on this is good, it’s unfortunate that the rest doesn’t work. Pattinson and Witherspoon may have worked previously in “Vanity Fair”, but here there’s zero chemistry. The pacing is very slow, and minor characters serve absolutely no purpose outside stereotype. Worst of all is poor Waltz whose character is so mean and evil it robs the viewer from any real enjoyment.
“Water for Elephants” could have been a great film, but sadly it meanders through elephant-sized droppings.