Saturday, May 07, 2011

Have you ever wanted to run away with a circus?

from w
No, I haven't, and in the movie 'Water for Elephants' the young hero actually joins the circus accidentally. It's 1931 and the Depression and he's homeless and unemployed, though an almost graduate of Vet School. We saw the film last night and it was really enjoyable - great setting of the circus life in those years, a good plot but the acting by the leading two was not incredibly marvellous, though okay. The most interesting character, August, was the mean one indeed. And, the star of the show was of course 'Rosie' the elephant, who was the central focus of the film. The dopey kind of look by the young vet was a bit much and the connection with the female lead didn't seem convincing.

The New York Times gave a very rough review which I think was too harsh. It's not a compelling film like 'The King's Speech' which was flawless, but it was a good film to see for Mother's Day weekend.

The critic wrote as follows:
Instead of evoking a pungent vision of rough-and-tumble circus life in hard times, “Water for Elephants” concentrates on the explosive romantic triangle of the circus’s volatile owner, August (Christoph Waltz); his sultry, platinum-blond wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon); and Jacob. Ms. Witherspoon certainly has the wherewithal to play Marlena, a hard-boiled Jean Harlow type and product of foster homes whom August plucked out of poverty, married and turned into a circus goddess. But despite hints of a lower-class twang in her speech, Ms. Witherspoon (probably at the director’s request) resists creating an authentic period character.

The romantic chemistry between Ms. Witherspoon and Mr. Pattinson is nil. When they finally make love in a scene that is so dimly lighted you can hardly see them, it has all the heat of a kissy-poo game of spin the bottle played by 11-year-olds.

It is left for Mr. Waltz to inject “Water for Elephants” with the little sense of danger it is able to muster. As the imperious, sadistic, furiously possessive August, he brings the same intensity that infused his Oscar-winning portrayal of Col. Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds.” Treacherous, ruthless, greedy and cursed with an uncontrollable temper, he vents his pent-up rage by viciously beating Rosie with a bull hook. These are the only moments when the essential savagery of circus life surfaces.

Mr. Lawrence is so busy awkwardly jamming the novel’s minor events together and introducing (before dropping) colorful minor characters who have so little screen time that they barely register, that the movie fails to develop a sense of wonder. After all, what is a circus but a surreal pageant celebrating the animal side of human nature?

Brief scenes of the circus arriving in a town and pitching its tent provide momentary jolts of realism, and you almost smell the manure that Jacob has to shovel during his apprenticeship and taste the rotten, fly-covered meat he is instructed to feed “the cats.” But overwhelmingly the movie seems perversely intent on being “nice.” Its musical wallpaper accompanies panoramic cinematography that soothes rather than catches the eye.

As a piece of storytelling, the film displays its most disastrous choice when it makes the book’s climatic rampage seem perfunctory. This sloppily directed scene, which ends almost as soon as it begins, leaves you feeling cheated out of a necessary cathartic release.

Where is Cecil B. DeMille etc. etc.



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