Anna Karenina (2012) | Movie Review
Release date: November 16, 2012 (USA)
Runtime: 2 hr. 9 min.
MPAA rating: R
I was both excited and terrified to see this film. I was excited because I usually enjoy the work of a lot of people involved in this movie and because the book is an outstanding piece of classic literature. I was terrified because that outstanding piece of classic literature is an epic Russian novel that's over 800 pages long, filled with philosophy, religion, customs and intertwined story lines, all of it being adapted into a two hour movie. Perhaps that's why I couldn't bring myself to watch it as soon as it came out, but I finally did and, no matter how much I wanted to love it, this screen adaptation turned out to be a disappointment for me.
When I first heard that the film was going to be set in a theatre as a play I was skeptical - the idea did not sound like something that would translate well to screen. Surprisingly, I thought the approach worked most of the time: it made for clever scene changes and the fact that the whole theatre was utilized, not only the stage, added some interesting nuances to the scenes. What didn't work was when the whole "style and vision" occasionally took over what was going on in an overwhelming and confusing way. There were also some odd style choices that were wrong for the period, some of which I was willing to overlook as part of director's vision, but others really caught my eye. A good example is the dancing: if the bizarre way to dance a waltz wasn't enough, the lifts and touching topped it off. We are dealing with a society where that not only would have been out of bounds, but also disrespectful - it just wouldn't happen. Some of the fashion choices, no matter how gorgeous (and the fashion really was beautiful), were questionable considering the period as well, along with some of the manners throughout the film. Yes, I'm being picky, but we're dealing with a specific culture here and it's one that I'm familiar with.
Let me talk about the performances. I was absolutely mesmerized by Jude Law as Karenin! Though not the obvious choice for the part at first glance, he fully embraced the character and showed a side of himself that we don't normally get to see in his roles. I never expected him to be my favorite part of the film, especially since I never liked Karenin's character. Keira Knightley is in her element with another period piece. While she did a decent job as Anna, I did find her to be a little too cutesy and fussy in this role. While Anna is in her late 20s, she's not a young girl anymore - married for years, a mother, she is definitely a mature woman and I didn't think Knightley fully explored that side of the character. When it comes to Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky there are two sides to consider: on one hand his look is very wrong for the part, but on the other he really sells it in every scene. Once I got used to seeing him as Vronsky, I really enjoyed his performance.
The main problem I had with this adaptation was the way the story was told. How could you do this to me, Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard?! I understand that it's a difficult task to adapt a classic novel to screen, that the intention was to focus on the emotions and impulses, to get away from elaborate speech and the façade of propriety, but everything felt so brief. With the exception of Karenin, the characters seemed one sided, the relationships felt thin and everything happened so fast one can think that Anna and Vronsky's affair was a fling gone wrong. I also completely lost the connection of Levin's storyline to the rest of the events, which was not supposed to happen. If only the film had retained even a part of the novel's depth... Instead there were some awkward moments of comic relief that had nothing to do with the rest of the story and some beautiful but drawn out long shots.
Overall, as I have mentioned at the beginning of this review, I was disappointed. This wasn't a bad movie - on the contrary, it had some great elements and I appreciated the direction Joe Wright decided to go. However it lacked substance, which seems impossible if you consider how rich the novel is, and some of the stylistic errors were too much to overlook. I expected so much more from it and was really looking forward to the film. I give this adaptation of Anna Karenina a 3 out of 5, mostly carried by Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the fresh visual approach.