Saturday, December 01, 2012

ANNA KARENINA: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now showing in the Triangle area at the Rialto Theatre in Raleigh, at the Chelsea Theater in Chapel Hill, and in Durham at the Carolina Theatre:

ANNA KARENINA (Dir. Joe Wright, 2012)

I have to say upfront that I am “Anna Karenina”-illerate. 

I have never read Leo Tolstoy’s 1868 novel, nor have I seen any of the 1,056 TV and movie adaptations (I think this is an accurate number; I’m too lazy to confirm it on IMDb or Wikipedia). All I knew going in was the basic premise, and that this is the third in director Wright and Keira Knightly’s “literary trilogy” (previous installments were 2005’s PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE, and 2007’s ATONEMENT).

Wright’s new adaptation of ANNA KARENINA largely sets the tale of a love triangle that ripples through Moscow’s high society in a lavish old theater that evolves within the production into whatever backdrop is needed. The effect is mesmerizing in the choreography of the players, and the camera work that includes several stunning unbroken shots - at least I think they were unbroken, some cuts may have been invisible to my eye.

So Keira Knight, as the title character, works around the ropes, pulleys, curtains, footlights, and appropriate props, to portray a virtuous woman in a loveless marriage to Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin (a balding, bearded, and quite boring Jude Law). Knight meets Aaron Taylor-Johnson (KICK ASS, John Lennon in NOWHERE BOY) as the dashing Count Vronsky, and they begin an affair together.

In a secondary storyline, Domhnall Gleeson as Konstantin Levin, retreats to working along with the peasants after his marriage proposal was rejected by the young blond beauty Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who gets involved with Taylor-Johnson. You see, it’s complicated.

Obviously, since this is a 2 hour and 10 minute adaptation (written by legendary screenwriter/playwright Tom Stoppard), of a 864 page book, the movie has to gloss over a lot of story details, but the last half of the film got a bit too jumbled for me narratively. It was also got harder and harder to be immersed in these people’s lives, as Knightly goes a bit over the top at times, Law is overly-passionless, and Taylor-Johnson’s pretty boy pose mostly just blends into the scenery.

However, overall the film casts a pleasing spell with its intriguing theatrical framework even though that concept gets dropped for a bit in the middle of film. A ballroom dance sequence is one of the most striking, though I’d be hard pressed to name that arm movement dance they’re doing. Background dancing couples freeze as the principals pass, with the exquisite choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui again coming into play. It’s an incredibly inventive way to tackle one of the most standard scenes in all of historical romance drama.

A horse race scene comes close, but I’m not even going to try to describe how they pull that off.

Maybe if I was as in love with the aching close-ups of Knightly as cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s camera is, I would be into the poetry of these people’s plight, but really caring about how this woman is shunned by the aristocracy was really beyond me. 

Still, ANNA KARENINA has considerable merits, and folks who have a history with this material will surely get a lot out of it. It does make me want to read the book, and maybe check out another adaptation (I hear the 2000 miniseries is good), so I consider it a success for introducing me to one of Tolstoy’s most loved works, and for its meta theatrical take on this oft-told tale.

More later...

1 comment:

SoulsOfBlack said...

I think I'll like the move more than the book. This time the film will win.