Water for Elephants

A ‘Twilight’ star tries to change his image in this circus minimus drama

Water for Elephants

(C) 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved. (C) A.M.P.A.S. R

Directors: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz
Time Out rating:
Japanese title: Koibitotachi no Parade

‘Any living creature needs to know who’s in charge!’ the boss (Christoph Waltz) declares, demonstrating how to train an elephant – but it’s the lumbering adaptation of Sara Gruen’s 2006 bestseller that he’s inadvertently trying to whip into shape. A natural ringmaster, Waltz practically jumps through hoops of fire to enliven this creaky period drama, tranquilised with great care by the director of I Am Legend. As August, a domineering Depression-era circus owner threatened by the arrival of the caravan’s newest member, the Inglourious Basterds star imbues the character with his now-familiar brand of huckster menace, relishing being two steps ahead of everyone else at the table.

Unfortunately, Waltz is not the main attraction. That would be Jacob (Robert Pattinson), a veterinary student who drops out of Cornell after a family tragedy and quickly joins the troupe as an animal doc; soon he’s making eyes with the big man’s wife (Reese Witherspoon, half-invested). Everyone appears to be having fun playing speakeasy dress-up, but even impeccable design by Jack Fisk (There Will Be Blood) can’t compensate for a lack of verve or a point, and the framing scenes – with Hal Holbrook as old Jacob – hinge on the most lazily cued flashbacks in memory (‘Could you talk to me about what happened in 1931?’). Without larger-than-life drama or a steady stream of historical detail, it’s merely a gargantuan production that’s been lavished on a story hardly worth trumpeting.

Water for Elephants opens at Cinem@rt Shinjuku on February 25

By Ben Kenigsberg
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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