February 25, 2013
"Anna Karenina" is a classic in Russian literature by Leo Tolstoi. I only know the basic story about a married Russian aristocrat and her passionate and ill-fated affair with a younger count. I generally do not like stories that deal with adultery. But this one is based on a famous novel which I have not yet read, and this film had multiple Oscar nominations, so I wanted to see how this film directed by Joe Wright will tell the story.
This version of "Anna Karenina" is a beautifully-filmed, technically- polished production. All the technical aspects are practically perfect! The cinematography was breath-taking. The editing was exciting. The production design was impeccable. The music was effectively moving. Joe Wright's idea of setting the story to unfold on a stage was artistic, imaginative and inspired.
I believe what held this film from being the best it could be was the cast. I know Keira Knightley is a Joe Wright favorite. She had been in his two most famous films, "Pride and Prejudice" (2005) and "Atonement" (2007), both of which had Keira perfectly casted. As Anna, there seemed to be a problem in conveying the motivation for sacrificing her ideal marriage to Karenin (Jude Law in an understated role).
I think the main problem is the lack of chemistry between Keira and Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played her illicit lover Count Vronsky. If not for that perfectly shot dance scene in the ballroom where Anna and the Count gave in to their lust, the rest of the film will make you wonder what the fuss about the Count was all about. Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky looked pretty, pale, sulky and weak, not the dominating alpha male which would sweep the sophisticated Anna off her feet.
Well, this movie did make me want to seek out the other film versions of the novel for comparison. It also made me want to read the source novel itself to see how such a mundane story of unfaithfulness be as timeless as this one had been. This movie, while beautiful to look at, failed to make me see why.