WATER FOR ELEPHANTS **1/2
I went into WATER FOR ELEPHANTS with the best intentions: although this was a Robert Pattinson film, I was going to give it a fair go, not letting my gut-wrenchingly horrendous memories of REMEMBER ME cloud my critical judgement. It had, on paper, a lot actually going for it: Christolph Waltz, Reese Witherspoon, and a setting (on a circus train in 1931) that I found immensely appealing. Alas, alas… sure, there is some excellent period detail: the train itself, and the various circus accoutrements, are beautiful both in design and realization, and there’s a fair amount of historically interesting detail relating to the harsh realities – and intriguing joys – of circus life during The Great Depression. But the story itself is laboured and predictable: if you’re offered a love triangle between Pattinson, Witherspoon and Oscar Winning Nazi Waltz, who do you think is going to win? The elephant itself (Rosie in the film, Tai in real life) is truly beautiful and capable, but if you’re hoping for many scenes of training, you’ll be disappointed, as the movie prefers to focus on its dull love story rather than the sensational world of the circus. It’s a sadly wasted opportunity, and made more unpalatable by the recent viral footage of Tai being cruelly trained by her owners. Also, be warned: there are graphic simulated depictions of cruelty to animals (including Tai), the overall effect of which is not pleasant. Christophe Waltz and Reese Witherspoon are terrific, which only highlights Pattinson’s lack of dramatic heft; Waltz looks set to have a massive career playing the guy with menacing charm (or charming menace), following firmly in the wake of Christopher Walken.
I suspect James Wan set out to make the world’s best haunted house film; POLTERGEIST or the original AMITYVILLE HORROR will probably keep that title, but Wan’s film delivers many scares of the “shock you with sudden loud music and a demon’s face!” variety. Rose Byrne is really rather terrific given that her role mainly requires her to look various levels of concerned (from rather concerned to freaking terrified!!!); I predict here and now that she is going to become a MAJOR Hollywood movie star, up there with the Chalizes, Nicoles and Reeses. If she can rock a limited role in a straight-down genre pic like this, and play hysterically funny in GET HIM TO THE GREEK and the upcoming BRIDESMAIDS, and get away with honours in dramatic fare like ADAM and her TV series DAMAGES, what is she not capable of? Patrick Wilson provides ho-hum support, but beyond Byrne the star here is Wan’s direction, which really did have me on edge for much of the film. Make no mistake: this is B-Movie fare all the way; if you want a really scary story that will haunt you for days, SNOWTOWN is everything you’re looking for; INSIDIOUS will give you 103 minutes of jolt-scary fun.