I saw the film in South Africa on Friday afternoon - The trailer was an attractive, appealing one which made the film look intriguing; promising a sweeping period story and an epic romance. "Water for Elephants" certainly isn't unwatchable. However, it lacks any serious emotional power, Robert Pattinson (so effectively cast in the "Twilight" movies) is a good looking, and interesting looking, guy, but he definitely isn't a great actor. Pattinson fails to create a three dimensional character. One never sees what is going on in Jacob's head, because Pattinson isn't capable of projecting internal emotions. Reese Witherspoon - who can act - is miscast. Christopher Waltz - who was really well cast in "Inglourous Basterds" is certainly entertaining to watch and I would attribute some of the failings of his colorful character to the script rather than his acting ability.
The "chocolate box" cinematography is pleasant, colorful and sometimes atmospheric, rather than brilliant, and the film never really gets into top gear. Like its leading man, it's nice looking, but lacking in real substance. The narrative structure is also lumpy, and the story doesn't flow naturally. The best acting in the picture is done by Hal Holbrook and Paul Schneider in relatively small roles. But, to be honest, Rosie the elephant is easily the most endearing character in the film. While the film was disappointing and is certainly not an out and out flop, the story has been dumbed-down to appeal to a teenage demographic. It's got no real sexual or romantic heat. But, funny enough, I think youngsters will enjoy it. Especially teenage girls. I just hoped for so much more. No wonder 20th Century Fox are keeping it away from the critics for as long as possible, and opening it in a few smaller territories before the States. It ain't going to pick up sparkling reviews.
Don't think I hated it though, I just expected and hoped for so much more. The film's ending is a wee bit anti-climactic, but then the romantic part of the storyline is so predictable that it could hardly have ended any other way. I was, however, touched - little tears even welled up in my eyes - by the scene involving the horse's tragic demise, and a scene involving Rosie being hurt by Waltz's August. The costumes and period details are good, (although things sometimes look a wee bit too glamorous considering the milieu it plays out in), but the dialog and body language of the actors feels too contemporary. I imagine, given the film's target demographic, and the marketing campaign - which is centered around Pattinson, that this was intentional.
The story, while interesting enough (not surprising, since it is based on a popular novel), never really gathers an epic sweep, not is it ever intimate enough to compensate for this. Mostly, it just lacks the genuine romantic heat to succeed fully. There is virtually no erotic chemistry or tension between Pattinson and Witherspoon. So serious, passionate adult cinema-goers looking for intelligent, emotionally resonant fare will be disappointed, but maybe it will work for "Twilight" fans, if you know what I mean. The teenage girls will like it, and their boyfriends won't mind it. I must say, though, as a 51-year-old adult male who works in the DVD industry, writes film reviews for local publications and watches over a 100 films a year on the big screen (plus another 400 or so on DVD), I am hardly the target demographic, so, depending on age, tastes and how seriously they take cinema-going, others might well enjoy it more than me. Those young viewers who are looking for lightweight escapism with a pretty, contemporary star in the male lead will probably forgive the film its lack of genuine dramatic tension, and a compelling narrative structure.
Like I say, I really expected more from this film, but I guess so many of today's films are tailored to a teen aged democratic who lack the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, want fast editing and are not interested in seeing characters breathe or develop in interesting, realistic ways.