Review: Water for Elephants (2011)

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz

As with most adaptations of bestselling novels, staying faithful to the source material can either greatly benefit a production or prohibit it from reaching its full potential, depending on how fans of the literature feel about said adaptation in the first place. Water for Elephants, unfortunately for us, is a textbook example of how meticulousness in relation to the birthing of this type of film can result in a snoozefest devoid of anything a likable, remotely original piece of cinema should and sometimes can bring to the table. With chemistry absent throughout and nothing of interest being present outside of the occasional bout of conflict, Francis Lawrence’s period drama leaves a lot to be desired.

As a pseudo-coming-of-age tale that chronicles the uncertain future of one Jacob as he joins a traveling circus as their veterinary “doctor,” Water for Elephants doesn’t seem to be too concerned with its central character’s maturation. Sure, Jacob falls in love with the lovely Marlena, of whom is very obviously married to egocentric sociopath August, the circus’ ringleader with a slight penchant for violent outbursts. The love triangle that ensues as a result of Jacob’s infatuation brings about many a confrontation, the majority of which result in Robert Pattinson getting manhandled in a way only a child’s toy should be.

Outside of these more emotionally-driven sequences and the appeal they carry, there’s no denying how wonderfully the essence of those years stricken by The Great Depression are captured, leaving us to wonder how anyone not familiar with the period in question would find anything to openly admire here. Needless to say, a majority of the proceedings drag considerably, allowing me ample time to shake my head in dismay as mildly entertaining circus acts began to segue into less favorable drunken nights aboard the Benzini Bros. Express in an all-too-predictable manner.

What could have easily saved Water for Elephants in the long run was essentially the performances of its stars. Considering there hasn’t been such a pronounced lack of chemistry between actors featured in any film for quite some time, which is certainly saying something, it’s safe to say that this film simply cannot be saved. Pattinson as always manages to instictively grin as a natural reaction to everything, and his notoriously wooden demeanor isn’t quite enough to provide for at least some type of intriguing interaction between him or any one of his infinitely more talented costars. Every instance involving his budding relationship with Witherspoon’s Marlena seems forced, and to be honest, if it weren’t for Waltz, Water for Elephants wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Sad, but true.

Taking into consideration all of Water for Elephants‘ obvious shortcomings, I’m going to humbly suggest that you avoid this humdrum mess at all costs. With very little going for it outside of an obvious obligation to stay as true as possible to the literature that inspired it, those looking for an affecting romance or even an accesible, mildly entertaining afternoon at the theater will be very sorely disappointed. From an abominable lack of chemistry between all involved to a nonstop freight train of monotony coming at you full force, everything outside of the film’s rather laughable conclusion will either put you to sleep or leave you wanting more. If anything, Water for Elephants is a prime example of how poor casting choices and reluctance toward taking liberties with the source material can result in an altogether lackluster cinematic experience.

Rating: 3/10


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