Water for Elephants, starring Twilight's resident vampire princeling Robert Pattinson and Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon as the ubiquitous tortured young couple in love amidst the dangers and hard times of depression era circus life, is the kind of movie that gets made in order to appeal to a certain type of audience - the type of audience that believes James Cameron's Titanic to be the be all and end all of romantic high drama. If you are of this particular audience then you will probably love Water for Elephants (I am guessing this is the same audience that read the book) but if you are of a more discerning crowd - and you like your filmwatching to be accompanied by a bit of substance now and again - then you will most likely be quite disappointed by Water for Elephants. Then again, if you are of this crowd then you probably will not find yourself in a theater watching Water for Elephants anyway, so I suppose it is a rather moot point. This critic on the other hand, wanting to give the so-called heads-up on as many new releases as one can, did sit through Water for Elephants. Here is what I thought.
Thanks to the droves of teen girls (and not so-teen adults who have yet to grow out of their adolescent level of entertainment) who have flocked to the Twilight films over the past few years, perhaps the film has a greater appeal than just the aforementioned Titanic crowd (though there are certainly some crossovers) but those hoping to see the tweeny pinings of that franchise will too be sadly disappointed (though they can still see Robert Pattinson with his shirt off). In fact the film is not nearly as awful as all that - mainly thanks to Christophe Waltz (handing in a villainous performance that acts eerily like his grand Oscar winning turn in Inglourious Basterds but what a performance to ape) as the brutishly charming circus ringmaster who dances circles around tortured wouldbe lovers Pattinson and Witherspoon. But then, just because a film is not as awful as another film (or series of films in this case) by no means should one assume it is therefore a good film - because, though far from terrible (which is kind of what this critic expected), Water for Elephants is certainly not a good film.
Probably (considering a certain plot line) better called Whiskey for Elephants, director Francis Lawrence (do we even have any right expecting something competent form the man who gave us I Am Legend!?) gives us an extremely tired film full of boilerplate cliches and hamfisted told ya so's (though to be fair, these were probably already quite rampant in the novel). Though Pattinson is not terrible (passable even, and almost, dare I say, good) and Witherspoon does her best fawning (she looks good at least) it is Waltz as "the man in the way" who steals every scene (unless it is already being stolen by the titular Rosie the bull elephant) and makes the film go from inevitably tragic romance mess of a movie to a merely mediocre tale of dark revenge. Not exactly high praise, but praise (sort of) nonetheless - or at the very least, the best that I can do. The story does hit upon the abuse of circus animals (which is boldly highlighted in the inevitable comeuppance of a certain character) and at the very least, glosses over the desperation of the depression, but at the heart of the story is romance, and I suppose that trumps hard hitting woes every time (he said tongue firmly pressed against cheek). [04/25/11]