April 23rd, 2011
12:38 PM ET
No wonder Robert Pattinson kept talking about the elephant: Critics agree that the pachyderm is about the best thing going in this weekend’s new release, “Water for Elephants.”
Based on the best-selling book by Sara Gruen, it tells the Depression-era story of Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson), a Cornell student who drops out of veterinarian school and finds himself joining league with a traveling circus.
That circus contains Rosie, the beloved elephant who can follow Polish commands and is also cruelly mistreated by the circus owner and ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz), who isn’t any kinder to his wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) – the very woman that Jacob finds himself falling for (of course).
As this film is also a rare offering of Pattinson outside of the “Twilight” storyline, it’s understandable that most critics were simply thrilled to see him ditch the vampire scowl/look of pain and actually have some color in his cheeks.
His acting? That was more hit or miss.
“As Jacob Jankowski, a part that requires him mainly to be shy and watchful, RPattz radiates a slow magnetism that locks the viewer's eyes on him,” Time writes, noting that “for a few moments in ‘Water for Elephants,’” Pattinson does seem capable of a career outside of his familiar blood-sucking character.
That is, “until the vapors pass, we return to 2011 and realize that, however strong Pattinson's anachronistic attractiveness, they don't make movies like 'Ball of Fire' or 'A Place in the Sun' any more.”
The Los Angeles Times agreed that the 24-year-old actor is “the weak link in this melodramatic chain…Though his removed affect made him ideal as one of the undead, that quality makes him seem sullen, petulant, even pouty here.”
But Pattinson’s co-star, the recently married Witherspoon, wasn’t let off the hook, either.
Pattinson “doesn’t quite connect with Witherspoon, though that may not be wholly his fault,” says Movieline. “She can be a wonderful actress, but when it comes to sharing the screen with her, I suspect she’s a tough nut to crack… Witherspoon’s Marlena doesn’t melt easily, and when she does give in to romance, you can almost see her grudging reluctance in the set of her sharp little jaw.”
Christoph Waltz, meanwhile, delivers a solid performance, reminiscent of his acclaimed turn in “Inglourious Basterds,” while Roger Ebert, who gave the film three stars, notes that Rosie the elephant’s “timing is impeccable.”
In the end, says Entertainment Weekly, the elements were there but they just didn’t add up.
"Actually made to resemble a good old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing movie, this cinematic ‘Water for Elephants’ droops and lumbers like Rosie the elephant herself,” says EW. “The heart of the story is there…[but] what’s missing is the soul. From scene to scene, and plot point to plot point, nothing connects. Pattinson, Witherspoon, and Waltz perform in separate rings of their three-ring circus.”
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