Blu-ray Review: Old-Fashioned Melodrama of Effective ‘Water For Elephants’
CHICAGO – Given my general aversion to modern soap operas, I was understandably nervous about reviewing Francis Lawrence’s “Water For Elephants,” an over-heated romance based on the best-selling book. Much to my surprise, this is an effective drama that should remind viewers of “the kind of movies they don’t make any more.” It would have been right at home in the Hollywood of the ’40s and ’50s and should make a satisfying rental for nearly any audience willing to go for the cheesy ride.
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
One of the first things one notices about “Water For Elephants,” especially given the strong HD transfer from Fox, is that the film looks stunning. They’re the names that most people don’t notice in the credits, but people like cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain”) and 8-time Oscar-nominated composer James Newton Howard add a caliber to the production values of a film like “Elephants” that can’t be denied. It’s a remarkably well-made piece of work with some photography that could be framed and hung on a wall.
Water For Elephants
Photo credit: Fox
Inside that frame, Lawrence and the great screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (“The Fisher King,” “The Bridges of Madison County”) tell the over-the-top story of a love triangle between a lost young man, a power-hungry circus manager, and his star performer. “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson does the best work of his young career (and still falls a little bit short of being as charismatic as he should be for a role like this one) as Jacob, a Cornell grad dealt a life-changing blow that forces him to ride the rails. When he jumps the train of a traveling circus, he convinces the owner (Christoph Waltz) that he can be the vet. He’s instantly drawn to the lovely Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and a dangerous love triangle forms.
Water For Elephants was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 1st, 2011
Photo credit: Fox
Pattinson has moments where his potential star power shines through more than it has yet to do in the “Twilight” series. He carries the film in ways that I wasn’t expecting, although his lack of chemistry with the miscast Witherspoon is a bit disappointing. Their relationship always feels more like a plot device than an actual passion piece and one wonders if there isn’t a much stronger version of this story with two different leads. Stealing the piece is Mr. Waltz, delivering yet again in a villain role. One hopes that he soon plays a good guy and avoids typecasting but it’s hard to complain when his bad guys are this engaging. The always-brilliant living legend Hal Holbrook shines in a few short scenes as the older Jacob, who tells the story in flashback to Paul Schneider.
“Water For Elephants” is undeniably slow at times — especially in the build-up to the love triangle we know is inevitable — but Waltz, the high production values, and LaGravenese’s ear for dialogue keep it interesting when it would have sagged with a few less talented people involved. Yes, there could have been a better movie made from this beloved source material but it likely involved casting different leads. This is not only the best possible result given the names above the credits but a romance that works despite the lack of chemistry between the leads. It may not be perfect but it’s much closer than I expected.
Academy Award winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz join Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga) for this epic tale of forbidden love based on Sara Gruen’s acclaimed best seller. Against all odds, a veterinary student (Pattinson) and a beautiful circus performer from a bygone era (Witherspoon), meet and fall in love through their shared compassion for a special elephant. But their secret romance incurs the wrath of her dangerously volatile husband (Waltz).
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