Sunday, August 11, 2013

Water for Elephants

2011. 120 min. PG-13. Language. Adult situations, if not plotting. Disturbing implied violence against an elephant. Murders are mostly okay, apparently.

IMDB says… A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a traveling circus as their vet.

The 73rd Virgin says… I haven’t read the book. There is an admirable amount of effort put into recreating Depression-era colors, makeup, atmosphere, etc. The majority of the movie looks fantastic. But the nighttime train riding and railcar-hopping scenes are almost as convincingly realistic as Harry Potter’s. Not quite.

This is my first exposure to the Robert Pattinson smolder, which approaches Brando-esque quality early on, but near the end the director appears to have run out of ideas and has him walk into scene after scene with dull eyes looking at some disturbing detail or another in the middle distance. Could be a sun rise; could be someone humiliating a woman; could be someone thrown off a train. It all smolders the same.

And the smoldering soft-spoken romantic Jacob apparently undergoes genetic manipulation worthy of Resident Evil to turn into Hal Holbrook in full cantankerous Mark Twain mode for the intro and outro. I was completely unconvinced.

Witherspoon is fine as the damaged and fairly hard-bit heroine, Marlena. And if she didn’t do her own stunts it was hard to tell, thanks to special effects. There is one shocking continuity problem, involving eyebrows that seemed tweezed to look like Jean Harlow in the first scene, but from then on, they’ve grown back in to more or less what we expect. The Harlow look would have been more convincing. But she’s good. There’s no cuteness shining through and physically she looks like her part.

Since I am pathologically unable to watch Hollywood win World War II one more time, I never saw Christopher Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. Here he has the movie’s only really interesting and well-written character and it’s almost enough. As the circus owner August, Waltz has manic energy and pathos and real physical threat built-in.

But the story is thin and has some dodgy ethical and moral quandaries for its characters. Basically everyone on the circus train knows that in order to make payroll, August will occasionally toss a couple lesser employees to their presumed deaths from a moving train. Wife Marlena knows it. Beloved old codger Camel knows it. Kindly, hulking body guard Earl (the great Ken Foree) knows it. Kindly dwarf Kinko knows it. Moral center and romantic hero Jacob knows it. Hell, I think even the elephant knows it.

And yet the only character who responds appropriately is – the elephant.

This makes it really hard for me to find a character to root for. And after Jacob has stolen August’s wife and made whoopee with her at a seedy hotel, August’s henchmen DON’T kill him. Umm, why? Is train tossing their only skill?  Are they confused by the hotel room not being a rail car?

Speaking of moral center, there is this doozie of a line, “you’re a beautiful woman Marlena, you deserve a beautiful life.” So, let’s not discuss all the dudes that got murdered by your husband. And I guess that’s why the happy ending left me kind of cold.

My 86 year old mother liked it and she generally has superior taste in movies, so maybe I’m just needlessly pissing on your cornflakes, but when you gotta go…

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading the review. Never had any interest in this movie and now I see why. The book was on the bestseller list forever and it didn't interest me then either :)