09 May 2011
Water for Elephants: Better than the book?
The book Water for Elephants suffered from being trite, having too many “supporting” characters, and switching from the present and seventy years ago. I did enjoy the insight into the old circus days that the book offered. To say was hesitant to see this adaptation, might be a bit of an understatement. I am also not a fan of Robert Pattinson. I don’t think he is a good actor, in the least. If the role is a statue comes to life, and the lines are to be read with little to no emotion, almost robotic, then he is your guy. Then there is Reese. Poor Reese. She hasn’t had a lot of success since winning her Oscar back in 2005. She did have a moderate hit with Four Christmases, and Monsters vs. Aliens, but that was just voice work. Finally, rounding out the three main actors, you have Christoph Waltz. He is coming off his Oscar win in 2009, and in his third American film. The poor guy is just typecast as a villain. I did enjoy his last film, more than I should have. So, this movie, with its odd casting, and subpar source material, was not high on my list to see.
The film streamlined the story. It kept what I liked about the book, and cut the crap out. This made an enjoyable film. Not a great film. But an enjoyable film. Water for Elephants brought to life the circus life of the 1930’s. It opens in the present with an elderly Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook) talking with a circus owner (Paul Schnieder, Parks and recreation). Jacob tells the owner his story. We see the story in the past. It starts with a young Jacob (Pattinson), a veterinarian student who recently loses his parents, his house, and his nerve to finish his degree. He finds himself train hopping. The train just happens to be owned by August (Waltz) and his traveling circus. He ends up getting on with the circus because of his veterinarian background.
Jacob’s first day on the circus payroll, he sees Marlena (Witherspoon), and he is instantly infatuated with her. This makes August jealous, angry, and rash. August’s true intention is to become the biggest and best circus. He will stop at nothing to achieve this. He purchases Rosie, an elephant, from a defunct circus. He charges Jacob with developing an act for Rosie and Marlena. The rest of the film follows these three characters and their interaction with each other. It shows August getting angry at a love that, he is convinced, exists between Marlena and Jacob. Jacob figures out the secret to Rosie, and develops an act, but does fall in love with Marlena. Marlena decides that she needs to get away from the tyranny that is August, and run away with Jacob.
Set in the depression era, the bad economy also begins to pay a toll on the circus along with the conflict and tension between its star performer, owner and vet. This all reaches a head, and chaos ensues. In the end, we are left where we started, with an old Jacob talking to the owner. We are left with what should have been an emotional moment, but it fell flat. I blame a lot of the problems with this film on the inability to act by Pattinson. He is wooden. Reese did not really return to her better performances. On the other hand, Chistoph Waltz is an amazing psycho. He was absolutely amazing in Inglourious Basterds. He played an excellent villain in The Green Hornet. And, again, in Water for Elephants, he stole every scene he was in. Is this worth watching? Sure. As a rental.