While it deserves some recognition for creating a visually-pleasing spectacle (credit Oscar-nominated production designer Jack Fisk and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto), the Depression-era melodrama Water for Elephants isn’t the charming phenomenon one might’ve imagined based on the popularity of the 2006 historical novel by Sara Gruen from which it’s adapted.
Instead, the film lacks the romantic luster needed between its leads to match the enchanting, saga-like feel of the time.
Brooding as boyishly as ever, Robert Pattinson (Eclipse) plays Jacob, a veterinary student who spontaneously hops the rails and joins a traveling circus after tragedy strikes at home. Working his way up the ranks quickly, Jacob is entrusted with the training of the titular pachyderm. His animal instincts invite conflict when he becomes smitten with the circus’ star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who’s also the wife of the heartless ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz). Waltz isn’t as cold-blooded as his Nazi character in Inglourious Basterds, but he still runs his circus like part of the Third Reich.
In a small but touching Gloria Stuart/Titanic-type cameo, veteran actor Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild) gives the film its most tender moments as an elderly Jacob reminiscing about his year under the Big Top.
Water for Elephants
Dir. Francis Lawrence; writ. Richard LaGravenese, Sara Gruen; feat. Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Paul Schneider, Jim Norton, Hal Holbrook, Mark Povinelli. (PG-13)