Water For Elephants review

Before going to see Water For Elephants, a friend said they thought it looked very 'Moulin Rouge-esque' from the trailer. If only. Based on the bestselling book by Sara Gruen, this if the story of Jacob (Pattinson) whose life if turned upside down by the death of his parents. The tragedy strikes on the day of his final exam to become a vet and so he decides to run away and join the circus. There he meets the beautiful Marlena (Witherspoon) the Big Top's star attraction and wife of owner August (Waltz).

The story offers director Lawrence endless opportunities to draw the audience into the life of a circus performer and really go to town on showing the razzle dazzle of the performance. And he does the first time the story reaches the Big Top, we're treated to a dizzying mix of sound, colours and the camera following the trapeze artists. But then the story gets caught up in the melodrama of the love triangle between Jacob, Marlena and August and we're never offered that treat again; instead Lawrence chooses to focus on Jacob watching Marlena perform instead of allowing the audience to get involved too.

The film becomes too bogged down in the love story and apart from the big three all the other characters are left feeling on the edges, only there to drive the story forward (yes I know that's usually their role).  The problem is, the love story is never quite believable. You can see why Jacob is attracted to the beautiful Marlena but why would she look twice at him? He's only a lowly vet after all, and she's married to the boss, even if he is a cruel bully. It feels like they move from friends to paramours too fast and that all the drive to the romance comes from Jacob, the speed with which Marlena decides she loves him left my head spinning.

Of the three leads Waltz puts in the best performance, instilling August with a chilling menace but at times you also feel sorry for him, desperatly trying to keep his circus going during the depression. Witherspoon instills Marlena with a nice fragility but it does feel as if she's going through the motions a bit. And what of Pattinson? He's ok, nothing special and certainly nothing to sway non-fans. A quick mention for Hal Holbrook who bookends the film as the older Jacob. He's only in it for a few minutes but left me wanting a lot more!

So what could have been a head-spinning, colourful, fun triumph takes itself rather too seriously, never managing to draw out the performances you would expect from its leads. Pattinson fans I'm sure will revel in the chance to see their idol break away from Edward Cullen, while other viewers may wonder what all the fuss is about.

Water For Elephants at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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