Wednesday, December 5

REVIEW: Anna Karenina

Directed by Joe Wright
2012 Costume Drama
2 hours 9 minutes
From Focus Features

Keira Knightley
Jude Law
Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Matthew McFadyen
Domhnall Gleeson
Kelly Macdonald
Emily Watson
Michelle Dockery
Olivia Williams

There are going to be those who love this film and those who may want to look for a chair, a rafter and a rope.  While I may not be quite driven to the latter, I am closer to it than the former.  After seeing such a nice string of good films, it was only inevitable that I would come to see one such as this.  What was I thinking?

I mean really... what was I thinking?  I don't like books or movies on Russian tragedies, real or imagined (I barely made it through Dr. Zhivago.)  I don't like Tolstoy's work at all.  I don't like most interpretations of the classics. (I know... I know, could I be any more common?  But let's bring some perspective to this... I didn't see Expendables2 either.)  I am numbingly tired of Keira Knightley's every role being in this period stuff.  Frankly, she performed nearly the same task in The Duchess.  If she has a thing for hoop skirts and laced-up bodices and layers of fabric, I wish she'd do it on her own time. 

Maybe I should have some cheese with my whine...

So if I feel this way, why didn't I stay home?  Oh, I don't know, damn it, I just don't know.  Perhaps it's what I heard about the look of the film.  So let me slip in one something I quite liked.  It is lovely to look at.  Here is a likely winner of Oscar's best costuming, the art and set direction are something to behold, the lighting creates all the right moods and the camerawork is simply superb.    It is like a stroll through a gallery of beautiful paintings. 

Wright has given the film a stylized look.  Again, this is something one may like or not like.  Devotees of Tolstoy's work may get their hackles up while practitioners of hallucinogens are likely to enjoy.  To me it felt like directors Baz Luhrmann and Joel Schumacher might have been counselling Wright on the look.  It felt like an opera without the music, a film within a theatrical framework.  For example, the camera zooms in on Anna's face as she is lying in her bed in a lavish castle and as the frame then widens, she is still in the bed but on a theater stage.  It works to a degree but I found it equally distracting. 

Think of this beautiful stroll through the aforementioned gallery as being hampered by an irritating person describing things.  That's what we have here.  I didn't care for Tom Stoppard's screenplay nor did the acting particularly impress me and I might question whether Wright paid much attention to this aspect.  I did not feel tight direction.  I did not find the overall film entertaining. I found it all a bit dull.  Oh, I dunno, perhaps I just wasn't myself today.  I needed an antidote to all this flamboyance and silks and satins, so I came home and watched Winter's Bone for the first time.  Now I am all leveled out again.

For the uninformed-- and what I'd give to be a part of your crowd-- Anna is an aristocratic adulteress in late 19th century Russia whose affair with a moneyed count leads to unhappy circumstances.  It seemed drawn out over a very, very long period of time and I found myself rushing Anna along to catch her train.

This is the third time Knightley has worked with director Wright.  They need to move on.  I thought their Pride and Prejudice was interesting (her costar in that one, Matthew McFadyen is part of this cast as well) and Atonement somewhat less so.  And Anna drops it down another notch.  Actress and director need an amicable separation.

Another symptom of the pain of watching this film is the good count played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson whom I have never heard of.  He's good-looking enough, I suppose, but he plays the randy count as some sort of Lady Clairoled butterfly in heat (an homage to Boys in the Band).  He flutters and pirouettes to distraction.  He may have been called a fop in that day; today girlyman is more in line.  I could not wrap my brain around the lusty heroine falling for him.

Finally, good, bad or indifferent, why still another version of Anna Karenina?  This dusty, tired old relic has been done enough times.  No one needed to breathe new life into it.  Knightley did not need to dress up like this again.  You can trust me when I say that though there will certainly be those who sing the film's praises, they will be a small minority.

What a Sissy

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