Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Run Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Keira Knightley, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jude Law, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly McDonald, Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson
Based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy
Screenplay by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love, Billy Bathgate, Empire of the Sun)
Directed by Joe Wright (Hanna, The Soloist, Atonement)
It must have been a chore to take an 864-page book written in the 1800s and make it into a movie for modern audiences. Anna Karenina – written by Leo Tolstoy – is considered one of the greatest works of fiction ever. It has been adapted for the screen multiple times over the past century, most recently in 1997. Why such a story needs to be re-made yet again is beyond me, but if anybody can pull it off, it would be the stylish up-and-coming director, Joe Wright (director of last year’s surprisingly exciting thriller, Hanna).
Somebody forgot to tell Joe Wright that he’s no longer working on an action/adventure, but rather a period-piece romance. The opening scenes of his Anna Karenina have a bounce to them – a kind of rhythm pulsing with ambition. His attempt to infuse a classic story with a hip, modern visual style proves to be too much to handle. It comes across as though Wright doesn’t have enough confidence in the material for it to pull its own weight, so he relies on cinematic tricks to keep the viewer interested.
And unless you are a hopeless romantic or a fan of Tolstoy, it will be a mountainous task to invest in this film. At over 2 hours, it is long and at times uneventful. Sad, that old stories just never seem fresh.
The title role goes to Keira Knightley, the Queen of over-acting. Here, she shows a great deal of control and restraint as Anna, the married gal in 1874 Russia who falls deeply in love with the young Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Her character suffers severe consequences for her love affair, with much of the story centering on her relationship with Vronsky as well as her stern husband, Karenin (Jude Law).
Juxtaposing this tragedy is another story going in a completely different direction, as a young soldier (Domhnall Gleeson, son of actor Brendan Gleeson) courts the lovely young Kitty (the charismatic Alicia Vikander).
Never having read the original work of Tolstoy, it is hard to gauge how many of the original 864 pages make their way into this adaptation. Because of this, I wasn’t sure if Anna was supposed to be a sympathetic character. Knightley’s version finds her putting her love for Vronsky above all else, without ever seeming all that likeable. Her obsession with Vronsky comes quickly and without much explanation or even understandable levels of attraction. Vronsky actually comes across more like a creepy stalker, porn-mustache and all.
Anna Karenina is probably a faithful adaptation of a story that was in no dire need of being remade to begin with. There aren’t any particularly powerful moments or performances. In fairness, there were no glaring mistakes or annoyances either. It is a beautifully made film that will mostly be forgotten.
When you are the 12th film adaptation of the same story (as this film is), you have to do something drastically different to stand out. With this version of Anna Karenina, Joe Wright tries but ultimately fails to bring any new revelations about the characters or the story that we haven’t seen already.
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