BARRY COURTER: You can say this for “Water for Elephants”: There is plenty to look at. Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson are both Hollywood superstars and they practically glow on screen. Separately anyway. Together they are good, but not great.
Also worth looking for, at least for locals, are the scenes that were shot here. The house on West Cove Road in North Georgia is onscreen for a short while and Lookout Mountain makes several appearances. The train at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum gets tons of face time. Even Bessie Smith, or her music anyway, makes a cameo during one scene.
And, of course, there are the animals from the circus.
HOLLY LEBER: Indeed, Tai the elephant, as Rosie, might be the real star of this film. She had the most appeal of all the leads.
Pattinson made a big splash when he came here, but to those who don’t care to be vampire-bitten, his allure is perhaps more elusive. His acting here is superior to his work in the “Twilight” movies or “Remember Me,” but that’s akin to saying a tooth cleaning is more pleasant than a root canal.
Witherspoon is fine, not spectacular but not notably faulty, and lovely in 1930s garb. And Christoph Waltz is as cold and sinister as expected, but it would be nice to see him take a different tack in his acting. His coldhearted ringmaster is a less subtle version of his Oscar-winning SS Col. Hans Landa from “Inglourious Basterds,” minus the Nazis and plus a top hat.
BARRY COURTER: I thought Witherspoon and Pattinson were both solid enough, and lovely is the right word for her. Waltz was easily the best human character in the film for me, and Tai is a scene stealer. I liked the way she was featured and presented. It was touching, sensitive and funny without being too cartoonish or clownish, if you’ll forgive the reference.
HOLLY LEBER: There are cymbals crashing in my head right now, thank you, Barry.
With good, but not memorable (save for the elephant) performances, and a storyline that is at least 90 percent predictable, the best part of “Water for Elephants” is the appearance, some of which is owed to the local beauty. It’s a very pretty film, with good camera work, well-costumed and strong art direction. Some of the best shots are set atop the train. And the movie is far superior to “Leatherheads,” the last major motion picture to make a filming splash in these parts.
“Water for Elephants” is not a 10, but the Chattanooga area gives a fine performance. This region is, no doubt, growing as a film set location, and rightfully so.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...