“Water for Elephants” does not live up to the hype

In “Water for Elephants”, a Great Depression-era romantic drama about a traveling circus, it is the supporting actors and animals who truly steal the show. The two lead characters, Robert Pattinson as young veterinary student Jacob Jankowski and Reese Witherspoon as circus performer Marlena, seem to be fighting through the whole movie to inject chemistry into their vapid, not quite believable romance.

Set in the in the 1930s, as the American economy crumbled and thousands of men roamed the country in search of work, this movie follows the tale of Jankowski as he joins the circus following the death of both of his parents. After hearing of his parents’ deaths, Jankowski sneaks onto a train that houses the Benzini Brothers’ Circus, and he soon receives a job as the head veterinarian of the show. Soon after, Jankowski falls in love with the star of the show and the boss’s wife, Marlena, and their fight to be together leads the movie to its climax.

Throughout the movie, Pattinson and Witherspoon are overshadowed by Marlena’s husband and owner of the circus, August (Christoph Waltz), whose almost maniacal intensity and furious lust for control mirror a similarly enthralling performance as General Hans Linda in the World War Two drama Inglorious Basterds. Possessing a quiet malice that explodes out of him whenever he is defied, Waltz’s underlying ferocity manages to make the romance between the two leads slightly more compelling. The brutality Waltz shows toward the animals of his show, particularly the elephant Rosie, gives the movie some of the gritty, merciless nature of the circus, which is mostly lacking in the rest of the film.

As graceful and expressive as any of the human actors, the elephant Rosie also provides a more interesting character than either of the two leads. Giving comic relief at times, as well as portraying the despair all of the animals of the show must have felt when beaten and crammed into tiny railroad cars, Rosie seems almost human at times, making the audience truly feel for the animals in the show.

Despite a still fairly lackluster performance, Robert Pattinson has come a long way since his days as the emotionless Edward Cullen from the “Twilight” series. His performance, at times, shows real emotion and depth, echoing his role in the drama “Remember Me”.

Though the movie, which lasts two hours, does begin to drag towards the last 20 minutes, the vibrant sets of the circus to manage to keep the viewers’ interest. Complete with a whole menagerie of lions, giraffes, zebras, horses, hyenas, and one elephant, the colors and tumult of the backdrop contrast well with the melancholy Great Depression atmosphere, and add excitement to the storyline.

This film, rated PG-13, is definitely not suitable for children 12 and under. With many scenes of violence toward people and animals, as well as a few frightening encounters with the animals, younger children are not advised to watch this movie.

If you’re a fan of escapist movies, “Water for Elephants” is a fun way to pass the time. But if you’re looking for a movie with real substance, it’s best to sit this one out.