Directed by Francis Lawrence. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz.
Based on a book, and startlingly similar in format and spirit to Tim Burton’s far superior Big Fish, Water For Elephants tries its hand at romance and fails, tries to recreate the magic of the circus but stumbles and tries to get us all mushy over a Polish-speaking elephant called Rosie, which it manages to achieve but only because she’s feeling up Robert Pattinson through most of the film.
An old man relating the story of his adventurous youth in a mystical and magical place and then falling in love. Not very original. And then you have Twilight heartthrob Pattinson looking oh-so-dashing as the orphaned vet Jacob who loses everything and ends up on the Benzini Brother’s travelling circus headed by the volatile ring master August (Waltz) whose wife Marlena (Witherspoon) he ends up falling in love with.
Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine) is out of his depth here trying to weave together a tale of love, betrayal and psychoses among a land of midgets, fire breathers, fat ladies and an elephant. Waltz’s August is menacing and mercurial, at times the perfect host and charmer, and then all of a sudden a mad man beating his animals into submission. His is the only part that deserves an ovation. The rest of the circus clowns are very sad indeed. Witherspoon, old and clearly miscast as young Pattinson’s love interest, is so horribly sketched that you wonder why on earth he’d be interested in her. Mr Vampire is suitably good, quite delectable and more presentable than his icy white countenance in Twilight’s sickly sweet puerile setting.
They should have just made it a story about a man and his elephant because the chemistry, playfulness and warmth in the scenes between Jacob and Rosie are incomparable to anything romantic between him and Marlena. And this whole format of the old Jacob (Hal Holbrook) narrating a story to a modern-day circus in town so that he may garner a job with them as a vet is so blatantly contrived to tug at your heartstrings that it didn’t elicit one tear from me and I can tell you I cried loads after watching Big Fish.
It’s quite sad actually that a relatively promising story has been almost whitewashed this way into something quite lacklustre and banal. Certainly not the best show on earth!