By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
I read Water for Elephants a few years ago and really enjoyed it. What struck me most about it was how cinematic it was. I’m surprised that it took as long as it did to show up on the big screen and maybe a bit more that the guy that did Constantine directed it.
Romance and whimsy are in the air
Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob (Robert Pattinson) who loses pretty much everything the day of his final veterinary exams at Cornell. This being the Great Depression, he hops the first train he sees, which ends up belonging to the Benzini Brothers Circus, run by the tyrannical and mentally unhinged August (Christoph Waltz). He takes a job as head veterinarian and then elephant trainer when one is acquired to be the main attraction in tandem with August’s beautiful wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). Things start rushing headlong to tragedy when Jacob and Marlena start to bond over Rosie the elephant.
You have to raise a glass to the most adorable thing to hit movies screens this year, Hal Holbrook. He’s our narrator, and if the script is to be believed, 104 years old (1931… do the math). He does misty-eyed and nostalgic as good as anyone, and seriously needs more roles.
Who could say no to that mug?
The production values are top-notch, and director Francis Lawrence gets uniformly excellent shots throughout the film. He does a particularly good job with the violence, which is often shocking in its speed and brutality and really raises the stakes while contrasting with the moments of beauty.
The rest of the casting is pretty good. They found an elephant that can do pretty sweet tricks, Waltz does Hans Landa again, but I loved it the first time, and Reese Witherspoon has that necessary vulnerable, ethereal look, even if her chin is abnormally long and pointy.
There’s literally a large handful of it
The most important of the several important things about the film that don’t work was the chemistry between the two leads, Witherspoon and Pattinson. To be fair, Pattinson isn’t absolutely terrible, and I’m not going to call Witherspoon’s performance flawless, but it’s got to be hard to play off of an actor whose go-to move is staring blankly.
If they every made a male Manikin…
In Pattinson’s defence, he might have been trying to figure out how somebody could expect him to keep a straight face while delivering lines like “I don’t know if I picked that circus, but something told me that circus picked me” or “You’re a beautiful woman, you deserve a beautiful life, it’s that simple.”
If you haven’t read the book, you have my permission to subtract this beer. One of the best things about it was the secondary circus characters, especially the old carny who first takes Jacob in and the surly midget and his terrier that share his compartment. The movie doesn’t give them much time to develop and the actors cast couldn’t make up for that, which neuters some of the most poignant moments in the book.
Like the book, this is far from a perfect example of its medium. Still, it’s well constructed with a good story, and should keep you entertained. Also, carnies!
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Robert Pattinson’s eyes go dead
Take a Drink: every time somebody is reported or shown thrown off a train
Take a Drink: every time the elephant drinks alcohol
Take a Drink: every time Christoph Waltz physically abuses someone/something
Drink a Shot: every time a hokey line makes you cringe