Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Anna Karenina

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Alicia Vikander, Matthew Macfadyen
Director: Joe Wright
Running Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Rating: R

I have a bone to pick with Joe Wright. I believe he went into directing this sad excuse for a film adaptation of one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories of all time without even reading the book. Had he read all 750 pages, he would have known not to cast Keira Knightley as the heroine. Rachel Weisz or even Nigella Lawson would have been more appropriate, as Keira’s youth and under bite got in the way.

I also didn’t dig the production design. It’s set in a theatre, but there are literally only three scenes that take place outside. I wanted to see the beauty and frigidity of Russia, but instead, characters traveled from backstage, to main stage, to the audience to represent scene to scene transitions. This totally ruined the movie for me. They also dropped this in the last 30 minutes.

A little plot for you: Count Vronsky is a ladies’ man – yes, even 1860s Russia had them – and falls hard for the married Anna Karenina after exchanging a few glances and words at a train station. Though he was pursuing Princess Kitty (played by beautiful newcomer Alicia Vikander), he shuns her and devotes all of his time to making Anna his. Vronsky and Anna ultimately succumb to their feelings and begin their affair, though their chemistry was a bit lacking on-screen. The young actors portray Anna and Vronsky as two star-crossed hornballs, not as deep and mature lovers.

Princess Kitty instead finds love with Levin (a creepy Domhnall Gleeson) in a cute scene, actually, where they communicate their feelings for one another with letter blocks. The only other highlight of the film is Jude Law’s strong and understated performance as Anna’s betrayed husband, Karenin. He is embarrassed and ashamed for being the last to know about Anna’s affair, and we sympathize with him when he asks “what did I do to deserve this?”

Humor comes from Matthew Macfadyen as Anna’s brother Oblonsky, whom Tolstoy describes as being “on familiar terms with everybody he drank champagne with, and he drank champagne with everybody.” (So many of Tolstoy’s universal truths are unfortunately lost in this film. In the book, Tolstoy so easily speaks the heart, mind and thoughts of a woman: “She searched his face for signs of the impression she created on him...‘will he feel that I am looking at him! I want him to turn’…and she opened her eyes wider, trying thereby to increase the force of her look.” – classic women! How does he know that we do this! But, I digress.)

The costumes are stunning – I’ve never wanted a fur coat or muff so badly! - and will likely get a nod come award show season. Shots of a train throughout the film are overkill – too much foreshadowing. You’re better off committing to the monstrously thick novel than wasting $8 and two hours of your time sitting in the theatre. Sorry, not sorry.

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