Water for Elephants * * 1/2

Genre: Drama

Director: Francis Lawrence

Writer: Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel of the same name by Sara Gruen

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz

Running Length: 120 minutes

Synopsis: During the Great Depression, Jacob (Robert Pattinson), a penniless 23-year-old veterinary school student, parlays his expertise with animals into a job with a second-rate traveling circus. He falls in love with Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), one of the show's star performers, but their romance is complicated by Marlena's husband August (Christoph Waltz), the charismatic but unbalanced ringmaster and owner of the circus.

Review: There’s no doubt that one of the biggest draws of Water for Elephants would be Robert Pattinson, especially for Twilight fans who are craving for the next Edward fix, but unfortunately he happens to be the weakest link in the movie. Although Francis Lawrence manages to showcase quite well the nuts and bolts of running a circus during the Depression era, there is precious little chemistry between Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, and the romantic angle never really works due to this.

It’s not that Pattinson is acting badly, but the role of Jacob requires him to just stand around looking handsome and broody most of the time. Reese Witherspoon tries her darndest to up the energy level with a rather spirited performance but the two simply are unable to generate any sparks. It’s not surprising, then, that Christoph Waltz steals every scene with his nuanced, mesmerising turn as the psychologically disturbed ringmaster. It’s a great performance, but is slightly undone near the end when he transforms into a scenery-chewing, comic book villain.

Fortunately, Water for Elephants does have its fair share of high points, such that the fizzled romance doesn’t kill the movie entirely. The production design and art direction are very impressive, and really manages to recreate some of the old school Hollywood charm that is lacking in movies these days. There’s a great sequence which shows the Big Top being set up and other glimpses that seem authentic to how a circus would be run in the 30s.

Water for Elephants is also beautiful to look at – not only are the leads pleasing on the eyes, the cinematography is sumptuous with some really impressive set pieces. However, as all these components play second fiddle to the central romance, the end result is a movie that falls short of expectations. One may leave the cinema wondering if the film would actually be improved if the focus is shifted instead to August and the nuts and bolts of running a Depression-era circus.

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of four stars)


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