Water for Elephants could use a magic feather
Elephant lovers, circus enthusiasts, and Twilight fans will be rushing to theaters to see Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon star as a young couple caught in a volatile love triangle with Christoph Waltz in Water for Elephants. Pattinson plays Jacob Jankowski, a bereaved former veterinary student insistent on adopting the circus folkways and coveting the ringmaster's glamorous wife. Waltz delivers a noteworthy performance as the ruthless circus leader, though nothing quite as menacing as his Oscar-winning portrayal of Colonel Hans Landa in the 2009 film, Inglorious Basterds.
The film was based on the New York Time's Best Seller Water for Elephants by novelist Sara Gruen. The novel details the unscrupulous circus life during the Great Depression.
Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) attempts to retell Gruen's classic 1930's-set love story for the big screen but is evidently unsuccessful. Perhaps the responsibility for the overall quality of the film should not rest solely on the shoulders of the director, as many of the elements used to compose the film seem disjointed including the cast.
This is the first time Pattinson, Waltz, and Witherspoon have all worked on a movie together, though this is the second time around for Witherspoon and Pattinson. The two co-stars first worked together on the set of 2004's Vanity Fair in which Pattison played Witherspoon's estranged son, but the scenes shot were cut from the final version of the film.
Witherspoon and Pattinson's on-screen romance resembles the timidity between thirteen-year olds at the junior high winter formal with boys and girls on either side of the gymnasium, each trying to gauge the other's body language and act accordingly. The romance between the two characters that was passionately described in the pages of the novel was lost in translation in the film.
Waltz's charming ruthlessness and capricious behavior coupled with Witherspoon and Pattinson further diminishes the integrity of the love triangle as Pattinson does not depict himself well enough as a serious romantic rival but a grieving misguided sub adult.
Despite some of the lethargic acting, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto helped work wonders in portraying Rosie's (Tai the Elephant) performance with such elegance under the big top. Apart from the brutal physical abuse of Rosie by Waltz's character, there are few scenes with the animals that genuinely emphasize the grandeur of the circus. In fact, the scenes that showcase authentic circus activity, merely highlight the finale of the show when the performers (or just Witherspoon in a saucy bedazzled two-piece costume) acknowledge the applause of the audience.
In its opening weekend, Water for Elephants grossed 17.5 million dollars. The movie was mainly captured in Filmore and Piru, California along with scenes shot in downtown Los Angeles, and finally wrapped in Tennessee of August 2010.
Undoubtedly, audience members were expecting more from a film with a 38 million dollar budget, two Academy Award winners, and an adored teenage heartthrob.