Mainstream

- the cinematic musings of a self-certified geek

 

Water for Elephants - Dir. Francis Lawrence, USA, 120mins,

Black Swan

Copyright MainstreamMatt/Mainstream 2005-2011

Roll up, roll up! See Robert Pattinson without the comforting surroundings of a franchise for the first time since the sulky self critiquing titled, Remember Me. Can the heavy headed actor finally emerge as more than just a poster salesman’s dream, and play a rounded, empathic character?

 

Based on the fictionalised memoirs of Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson), and written in 2006 by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants is the Big Fish style tale of a ninety year old man (Hal Holbrook) reminiscing upon an extraordinary life. The date is 1931, and whilst studying to become a vet, Jacob receives the tragic news that his parents have been killed in a car accident, so subsequently downs books and runs off to the circus to become the animal keeper for The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. What we witness through these sentimental recollections is his forbidden affair with stunning acrobat, Marlena (Witherspoon), a liaison made all the more dangerous considering her husband and Ringmaster, August, is played by former Jew Hunter, Christoph Waltz.

 

Aiming, and missing, for the Titanic vibe of a wraparound narrative during which we dip in and out of Jacob’s life, this is ambitiously old fashioned, modern Technicolor filmmaking, that strains too hard to tug at the heart strings with rousing music and forced schmaltz, that it’s good intentions and sweet centre are smothered in mawkishness.

 

Everything visual about this fable is beautifully realised; I Am Legend director Lawrence has performed a full 180 and ditched CGI dependence and action packed editing for a laboured, indulgent cinematic canvas which evokes the kind of movie you’d watch cross legged on a Sunday afternoon as a kid.

 

The trio of big top performers all entertain at a ticket justifying level, although to avoid risking alienating the Pattinson fans, the darker elements of the love triangle are sidestepped; it’s all smouldering looks, gritted teeth, and the odd bout of fisticuffs, rather than genuinely believable romantic travails.

 

Pattinson is assured with his accent and carries himself in a way that indicates he could become more than a scream generator, the appearance of a smile on his face whilst caked up as a clown makes a welcome change from the sullen Cullen of the Twilight films. Still not entirely convincing, at least it’s an improvement.

 

Waltz falters as the pantomime bad guy; over the top and one-note, it’s surprising given his Oscar winning turn in Inglorious Bastards that he could be so unthreatening.

 

At the centre of it all, Witherspoon flips, twirls, and sparkles as the object of affection, and is as endearing as always, and although her character is simply a conflict device for the two warring men, she still outshines both. Well, her and the elephant.

More of an industrial park fun-fair than Cirque De Soleil, this is whimsical old school romance that never grips but still manages to hold your attention without ever threatening  to reach the Big Top.

2stars