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TBTS Reviews: Anna Karenina

December 7, 2012

Anna KareninaNever have I been so excited going into the theater, and so disappointed leaving it, than I was tonight when I saw Anna Karenina. The film, based on the classic by Tolstoy, had the perfect director, the perfect cast. It should have been mesmerizing. And it just… wasn’t.

When I first heard that this book was being adapted into yet another film, I was actually excited. It’s been awhile since the last remake, and I was looking forward to something new, fresh, yet classy and beautiful. A classic period piece. The casting of Keira Knightley as Anna cinched it for me. After movies such as Pride & Prejudice, The Duchess, and Atonement, Knightley has made her mark in historical dramas. But Anna Karenina is not your typical historical drama.

Director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, Hanna) brings a new and interesting twist to the classic period piece. Instead of filming a straight-up drama, he brings a touch of theater to the production by shooting the film as if it’s a play. Much of the action plays out on an actual stage, and characters and set pieces move in and out seamlessly as one would expect to see in live theater. The problem is that, while novel, it’s also quite contrived. There never seems to be a good reason for making the movie this way. While visually interesting (some would say distracting), there is no value added. In fact, if you don’t know what’s going on before the movie starts, you may spend too much time in the beginning trying to figure out what the hell you’re watching, rather than paying attention to the character development at play.

The other drawback to this approach was that it wasn’t used consistently. Some scenes were shot as you would expect in any other film, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for jumping back and forth between the two styles. Other reviewers have said that the theatrical setting mimics the scripted feel of life among Russian aristocracy with its strict rules of proscribed public behavior, but I disagree. If the technique were limited to scenes in which Anna’s behavior plays out in front of the audience of her peers, that would be one thing. But that is not always the case. To me it seems that Joe Wright used this technique when he could secure an interesting and beautiful shot, but when he couldn’t, or it was too complicated, he gave up altogether. The result is a film which lacks consistency in its cinematography and comes across as more cobbled-together than they were hoping for.

Stylistically, this film is flawless. Everything looks so exquisite, so painstakingly beautiful. Every dress, every chair, every flower is just so. And Keira Knightley… I mean, just look at her.

Keira KnightleyI cannot think of one bad thing to say about the casting choices made for this film. Keira Knightley is perfection. Jude Law is stoic (and nearly unrecognizable) as Karenin. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (the kid from Kick Ass… yes, really) holds his own as Count Vronsky. Kelly Macdonald is heartbreaking as Dolly, while Matthew Macfadyen is absolutely riveting as Stiva (Seriously, try taking your eyes off his mustache. I bet you can’t do it!). And you’ll definitely find yourself saying, “Oh, it’s that guy! And that guy! And that chick!”

Overall, I can’t say that I loved this movie, or even liked it. I understand what they were going for, I think, and I’ll give them credit for making a very pretty movie. But, as PaultheGeek says, “Never have I seen a movie with its head so far up its own ass.”

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