Wednesday, 14 September 2011

"The world’s run on tricks. Everyone plays."

Water for Elephants: directed by Francis Lawrence; written by Richard LaGravenese 
For a film about the grand old circus Francis Lawrence’s Water for Elephants is a rather cheerless experience. Jacob Jankowski heads to the circus one exam short of a degree at Cornell. It’s during the Depression and the newly impoverished Jacob is enticed by the thrill of the circus and so, like many before and after him, he gets on the road. What follows is an expected string of events that one would anticipate in any such film and that isn’t precisely the problem with Water for Elephants. The film is clearly one which depends on fulfilment of expected thrills but what does the film in for me is its curious lack of charm...
I like to pretend that both Four Christmases and How Do You Know never happened, so, Water for Elephants marks Reese’s first live action wide release since her lovely work in Walk the Line. As lovely as an actress as she is, I find Reese to be a very limited actor – not a bad one, but one with a specific niche and I immediately distrust the illusion of her as the enchanting Marlena. What’s weirder is that Reese herself seems to distrust her own cadence, and plays the character in a register she seems increasingly awkward doing. It’s a bit like watching her do her best Charlize Theron impression (an actress I couldn’t help but see fitting the role like a glove). Thus, the vaguely naff romance we’re served up sets itself up for failure since the woman it rests on is unpersuasive.
It’s a curious trio as Christoph Waltz who channels the meanness of Landa, but not the intelligence, against Robert Pattinson who’s every bit as reticent as he usually seems. Still, I’m vaguely hopeful for Pattinson because Richard LaGravenese retains none of the allure evident from when he penned the excellent The Fisher King. I’m wary of saying that Pattinson is trying hard, he moves along so glibly it’s a thin line between effortless and being lazy and he’s not quite charming but he’s appealing enough as the lead even if it’s a wan one. Waltz, on the other hand, in what should be a vociferous role has all the fury on the surface, but nothing underneath. Although, in retrospect the film doesn’t demand a particularly thrilling performance from any of its participants.
The film’s a curious worth. Sondheim says in one of his songs that “nice is different than good” and he’s right because the glossy sheen of niceness seems to lack an actual character even if I rather imagine it’s to keep the film rooted in an easiness that prevents us from taking the issues such as animal cruelty and potential spousal abuse to seriously. And, even though I can’t really sanction such lazy filmmaking I can’t quite accuse Water of Elephants from being terrible if only because Francis Lawrence ensures that even at its most clichéd its grounded in an overwhelming amount of earnestness which, for all his potential mildness, depends on the pull factor of Pattinson. The film is never as in touch with its tricks as I would like avoiding even the simplest of chances to be something more than rote, but Lawrence has played the game enough to know how to make a film that is at least serviceable. Because, when the film ends, despite all my issues with it I’m never really angry with it. I suppose there is something to rote easiness.
Addendum: Downgraded to C

1 comment:

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Enjoyable enough while watching, pretty forgettable afterwards...for all the reasons you state, Even the score is nice without being noteworthy.