Starring: Keira Knightley, Matthew McFadyen, Kelly McDonald, Jude Law, Olivia Williams, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and more.
Directed by: Joe Wright Screenplay by: Tom Stoppard Based on the Novel by: Leo Tolstoy Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey Original Music by: Dario Marianelli
Premise: Leaving her husband and son to go to Moscow to help her brother reconcile with his wife, Anna Karenina inadvertently crosses paths with Vronsky, a young and passionate soldier who is currently courting another woman. The spark struck between them sets their own lives and that of those around them spiraling in directions none ever expected and which could prove the undoing of them all. (Rated R)
1) Acting – Total Thumbs Up: Keira Knightley does a superb job as Anna Karenina. From her drifting through her overtly ordered life to resisting temptation to giving in to it and eventually spiraling into despair, every emotion was clear and full. As her conservative, workaholic husband, Jude Law was perfect. Matthew McFadyen brought a touch of levity as Anna’s philandering brother, Olansky. All the performances by the cast were outstanding.
2) Special Effects – Total Thumbs Up: The effects for this film are many, though most go back to the ‘tried and true’ methods of theater, just on a grander and expanded scale. Reality waxes and wanes, toy trains transforming into actual machines or illusions of docks or Moscow streets in the upper walking rafters of a theater. Image is everything, whether by a reality imposed by society, or that dreamed up for ourselves. Slices of life turned surreal.
3) Plot/Story – Thumbs Up: Nicely paced for the most part, the story follows the developing lives of a number of characters all somehow connected to or affected by Anna Karenina. As the film’s tag line says “You can’t ask why about love.” And we’re shown various types of it, from destructive, to one sided, to sublime. It is the main driving force behind all. But it isn’t always healthy for everyone.
The integration of the stage motif and and its intricate interweaving between social expectations and rules of conduct was an interesting take on a story which has been told many times in film. At first it seemed a little jarring, then into a lot of fun. Watching its influence on the different scenes was interesting. Not all viewers will enjoy it, however, as to some it will prove a distraction rather than an added layer, and jerk them multiple times out of the story’s trance.
There are a lot of little details that have to be caught visually, or from sounds, little clues of things not addressed directly. These worked really well. And though the industrial age was well entrenched at the time the story is set in, the machines in the film are the people. The choreography in this movie for several sequences was just amazing.
Lots and lots of symbolism hidden throughout – the ordered and staged state in the lives of those involved, yet when they are happy, content, or at peace they are out in nature, under an open sky. The longer you think about the film after it’s over, the more discoveries you’ll make, and the more astounded you will be.
4) Locations/Cinematography – Total Thumbs Up: The majority of the film occurs indoors, but the locations vary widely, even when it is in the same place as it will have been twisted into something else. The country scenes are all vast and wide. The inner scenes inversely are always restrained, like puzzles being changed, but still leaving you trapped in the same location – stuck.
5) Costuming/Makeup – Total Thumbs Up: The costumes were fantastic. Several of the costume changes are done as we watch – definitely not your normal fare, yet so wonderfully done.
Conclusion: “Anna Karenina” is a stunning, visual treat. Very subtle on many levels. Slows down a bit too much towards the end, but totally worth it. And wait until you see the ballroom scene – very complex and even pays homage to the Russian Ballet.
Rating: 4 out of 5 (Hubby’s Rating: Better for Matinee)