Pattinson sinks in 'Water for Elephants'
Send in the clowns.
Those haunting eyes, pale complexion, painted-on expressions...
They can send shivers down a spine, but they're considerably more evocative than Robert Pattinson's ("Twilight") performance in the circus drama, "Water for Elephants."
Evoking Hayden Christiansen of "Star Wars" prequel infamy, Pattinson is devoid of emotion and chemistry, soiling an otherwise decent - and beautifully filmed - drama, based on the best-selling novel from Sara Gruen.
Directed by Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend"), "Water for Elephants" is the tale of Jacob Jankowski, a Depression era veterinary student whose parents are killed in an automobile accident.
With nothing to his name and nowhere to go, he abandons school and hops a train to New York. As fate would have it, Jacob's destination is elsewhere. The train belongs to the Benzini Bros. Circus, led by the charming and equally brutal August (Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds").
Seeking to capitalize off Jacob's veterinary skills, he employs the young stowaway as the circus vet - particularly convenient in light of their new acquisition, an aging elephant called Rosie.
With the help of August's "star attraction" - wife and animal handler Marlena (Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line") - Jacob guides Rosie toward peak performance and success for Benzini Bros., all to August's delight.
But to his dismay, Jacob and Marlena develop feelings for each other, jeopardizing Rosie's wellbeing and their own lives, as they face the threat of being "red-lighted," i.e. thrown from the moving train.
The story is presented as a flashback from an older Jacob, heartily portrayed by veteran actor Hal Holbrook ("Magnum Force"). Per usual, Witherspoon delivers a fine performance, and Waltz dominates the screen as the menacing ringmaster.
The main star, however, is atmosphere. Lawrence not only recreates the feeling and look of a bygone era, but the bizarrely colorful and almost otherworldly microcosm of circus life during the Great Depression.
It's not always pretty, and Lawrence doesn't sugarcoat the narrative's more brutal aspects, including some wince-inducing scenes of animal cruelty. But Lawrence finds a fine balance in contrasting the circus's dark underbelly with the joy and wonder on patrons' faces.
Thoughtful cinematography from Rodrigo Pietro ("Brokeback Mountain") enhances an otherwise shaky narrative steeped in melodrama, offering many a memorable sight to behold - Pattinson's perpetually sulking mug not among them.
"Water for Elephants," rated PG-13 for moments of intense violence and sexual content, is playing at Regal Cinema 7. For show times, see page 28 or http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.