Sunday, May 22, 2011

Water for Elephants (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Water for Elephants

     The film adaptation of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants has come to town with a lush cinematography that remains the best thing in the film. With its glossy circus hues of rich reds, earthy browns, brilliant blues and deep middle grays, its visual impact is a hypnotic mixture of a Thomas Hart Benton painting and a glossy Vanity Fair spread. It presents a Pop version of circus history. On a visual level, it succeeds.
     The plot concerns an ambitious young college student (Robert Pattinson) and his attraction to the circus after the death of his parents in a car accident.  College boy Jacob hops a train and confronts a batch of hobos, who don't seem very hobo-like. Even their pants and shirts betray a newness despite holes and smudges. Most of the men look muscular and buff. The men decide to take it easy on Jacob. And it turns out the train is actually a traveling circus, belonging to the Benzini Brothers. 
     Jacob is immediately star struck by the main attraction. Of course it is the ravishing and blonde Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). Jacob manages to ingratiate himself with the proper melting eyes (remember this is the former Romeo from "Twilight") and gets a job as a vet. He becomes more and more enamored of Marlena. There is only one gremlin in this romance; Marlena is married to August, the authoritarian and abusive ringmaster (Christoph Waltz). Waltz,  famous for his menacing role in "Inglorious Basterds" is just as monstrous in this role. Indeed his festive red coat might just as well be a deaths-head SS uniform. Waltz is a fine actor. No one in current cinema portrays the detachment of violence so well with a pulp richness, but I found little imagination in his role. 
     When he zealously tortures the elephant and assaults his wife, he seems just another Tarrantino-tossed Nazi. My favorite part of the film is when the animals escape and wreak havoc on the circus company---a doomed ship. 
     The film is handsomely produced and richly told. Pattinson and Witherspoon are appropriately valentined. It is safe, family fare. The tent is just too flat. Real circuses possess an eerie drama. This film is a "Titanic" with greasepaint and I expected a little more bang. 
Write Ian at 

No comments: