When people refer to the “conventional romance”, they’re harkening back to something that doesn’t really exist anymore. I submit that Hollywood’s too demographic-minded these days to put out any romance that doesn’t (awkwardly) cram numerous genres into the same product, one such example being your typical romantic comedy. Even the insanely popular “Twilight” franchise, both revered and scorned for its unabashed romanticism, incorporates elements of horror and action into its mix. Seeing onob, an acrobat, Marlene, and her violent husband, August, against the back-drop of a Depression-era traveling circus.
One thing that director Francis Lawrence totally nails? The visual angle. From the very first frame, he had me totally sold on its period setting. But when at about the 25-minute mark, when the circus comes to life for the first time, the movie turns a whole new cheek and becomes a total feast for the eyes. It’s lit and portrayed in a very lush, romantic way; a stark contrast from some of the more glum, violent events of the film.
Continuing with the positives, Robert Pattinson actually delivered a very effective performance. It’s no secret that the mention of his name is to the chagrin of most males of any demographic, but I’ve found him to be a pretty capable guy, and he doesn’t do much to prove me wrong here. And Christoph Waltz, who continues the unfortunate pattern of dallying in work beneath his considerable talent, nevertheless is excellent as August. He adds an angle of unpredictability and menace to the film not unlike, say, Heath Ledger’s work in “The Dark Knight”. It’s also cool to see one of my favorite elderly actors, Hal Holbrook, get some solid work as an elderly version of Jacob, that serves as a framing device for the film to be told in flashback.
It would be considered odd that the biggest star of the film is also the weakest link, but I’ve never taken much of a liking to Reese Witherspoon, so it doesn’t strike me much that shee such “conventional romance” is truthfully, a bit of an oddity. Enter “Water for Elephants”, a romance almost determined to sprint in the opposite direction of where the industry is taking its genre.
It’s got Oscar-winners (Christoph Waltz, Reese Witherspoon), teenage idols (Robert Pattinson) and an accomplished director, so essentially its exactly what one would expect for a pedigreed project of its sort. And really, that’s just what “Water for Elephants” is: Exactly what you would expect, in both in its strengths and its weaknesses. It tells the tale of a love triangle between a young veterinarian, Jac didn’t impress me. Whereas Pattinson and Waltz imbue some degree of personality to their performances, Witherspoon doesn’t bring much life to her work. She delivers her lines with a vague look on her face, never really in synchronization with the tone the film’s trying to strike. Unfortunately, this hampers what’s probably the most important aspect the film was trying to sell: The romance between Pattinson and Witherspoon. I was still invested, but not as much as they were shooting for.
This segues a bit into my chief problem with “Water for Elephants”, which is that alot of times certain dramatic elements just don’t click. Due to some directorial (and in Witherspoon’s case, acting) slip-ups, some events that the film wants us to be swayed by or shocked by just don’t click. Prime example? The film’s grand climax, which everything in the film is supposedly building up to. But due the way Lawrence cuts and paces it, it simply doesn’t feel important at all. It ends the film on a very “meh” note, when it should have been cathartic and warming.
Generally speaking, those who see “Water for Elephants” know what they’re getting into; probably emerging from the theater completely loving it. The two I was with certainly did. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. B