Friday, 15 April 2011

Water for Elephants

Departing along gently...

Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) has a bright future ahead of him: with the Great Depression ravaging through America he has the chance at a good job as a veterinarian and a stable life. This all changes when he discovers that his parents have been in a car accident and that he is illegible to own their house. He tries to renew his life's purpose and by chance comes across the circus troupe of the Bezeni Brothers where he meets the cruel owner August (Christoph Waltz) and dazzling Marlene (Reese Witherspoon).

Titanic on a train: you would be forgiven if this was your estimation of the film based on previews and for the most part you would be right. Based on the award-winning novel of the same name, Water for Elephants tells the story of a man who has to redirect his life after it is derailed from some unfortunate events. The story is told in a linear fashion and it is a pity that not more is made of the idea of reality vs. illusion which is a noticeable subject in the odd dialogue interchange. While this concept has more in liking with who a character really is and what information they know but do not let on, the concept is nevertheless never fully developed and ultimately explained by the characters themselves. Nevertheless, other themes present themselves in more subtle and interesting ways such as the images of railroads and water allowing the experience to not be all dictated. In the end, the film feels like a reworking of James Cameron's Titanic with a new setting and a new cast, but it most likely will not have the same cultural impact.

Romance becomes pivotal to the development of characters and the respective actors prove capable. Robert Pattinson will obviously be the centre of talk for the film and he does well for himself here. If you did not feel that Remember Me was a step in the right direction from a Twilight-esque future, then this film will surely give you the impression that Pattinson at least has the potential to mature his acting in a commendable manner. Witherspoon does an adequate job in her portrayal of Marlene and wriggles in workable chemistry between herself and Pattinson, but ultimately she does little to truly shine beyond her male counterparts. But experience is what steals the show with Waltz exemplifying a character who can pull you in with his charisma and idealistic hopes but who can also repulse you with his cruelty. Waltz is indeed the strongest link in the acting department but do not let his performance undermine the rest of the cast, especially the supporting roles who help create a holistically believable set of characters.

All of this is strengthened by some decent costume design and film direction which brings every scene to life gracefully. There is some questionable CGI use for animals towards the end and the environment does not get quite the showing it could but the film feels balanced and admirable in portrayal of one man's journey of self-discovery.

Sex and nudity are, at most, hinted at and language is mild at best. There is some violence mostly in the regard of fist fighting but also the rare off-screen violence towards an animal.

As mentioned earlier, Titanic on a train could very well be an apt explanation of the film. There is thankfully enough substance to allow the story to craft its own image but only just. This coupled with some slight CGI mishap and a narrative that does not always allow one to ponder on certain ideas, are not enough to truly hurt the overall quality. The story is lovely; the acting is strong; and the filming is delicate in what it offers. It may not be the Titanic of the time, but it is hardly a bumpy ride either.


Screen date: 15 April 2011
Release date: 15 April 2011