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“Anna Karenina” – Review (POSITIVE)

November 28, 2012

The famous Leo Tolstoy love story, Anna Karenina, has been adapted several times; Joe Wright’s version will be the 24th incarnation of the book. Stylistically it’s the most pleasing adaptation, these days people seem to look back fondly on the Greta Garbo, 1935 version, for being the superior film, and I’m sure it is, but sadly I’ve yet to see it. Wrights adaptation is my first major introduction to the story; I’m familiar with War & Peace but Anna Karenina not so much.

This sprawling & epic love story is set in 1874 in Imperial Russia, as it powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart. As Anna (Keira Knightley) questions her happiness and marriage, change comes to all around her. Her secret affair with the irresistible cavalryman Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) surfaces throughout St. Petersburg & Moscow, creating such catastrophic controversy. Meanwhile a hopefully love story blossoms between Princess Ekaterina ‘Kitty’ (Alicia Vikander) & Konstantin Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) that becomes a symbol of true hopeful love.

If there is anything to take away from “Anna Karenina” it’s aesthetically beautiful to look at. The cinematography is beyond delicious there’s this special soft glow throughout the movie that gives it an otherworldly feeling. Which brings me to the clever set pieces, Wright decided to make a very bold choice for the movies entire setting, by having most the locations in Russia take place in a small playhouse. Perhaps to give the sense of an overzealous staged drama, which in the case of the story, the ladder seems to be true. The sets miraculously change in a blink of an eye as were whisked away to another location and yet at the same time, we’re still literally in the same space for the whole two hours.

The acting is well conducted here, Keira Knightly gives an extensive performance as the tragic Anna, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson as her lover continues to show the maturity in his acting chops, lets not forget Aaron will always be Kick-Ass. There are some credible supporting players, Jude Law actually did a good job in his role as Anna’s forcefully quiet husband, but I think the real scene-stealer goes to Matthew Macfadyen as Oblonsky, Anna’s uproarious brother from Moscow. Macfadyen puts a lot of wit into the character and finds a way to keep the audience entertained in his off color routine.

My issue with the film comes to the substance of the story, while it’s an interesting story and captivating at times, I think the elements that lead us to the trouble at hand is underwhelming and underdeveloped. Vronsky & Anna fall for one another over simply looking at one another, within 10 minutes after that moment in the film, they’re already in bed together, and I can’t help but wonder what were the missing parts to that finish line in bed. The romance between Kitty and Levin is far more interesting because of their obstacles between one another. Anna and Vronsky simply brisk by through the entire two-hour runtime. Then there are these moments of complete endocentric lines of dialogue that leave a question mark symbol hovering over your head, example: ‘Why do they call it love”, asks Anna, the other character responds, ‘Because it’s love’.

For a movie I had little affection to see earlier in the year, I’m quite content with the final results presented to me. I’m sure the ’35 movie is a better film narratively, but stylistically this version hits all the right notes swiftly. Joe Wright’s third collaboration with Keira Knightly may be his strongest one yet, since I was somewhat befuddled with “Atonement” and I’ve yet to see their take on “Pride & Prejudice”.

GRADE: B

Special thanks to Christine Labonté for attending the advance screening and sharing her input.

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