There are so many great things about this film. Joe Wright, who did an excellent job adapting Atonement (2007) and an UTTERLY AMAZING job adapting Pride and Prejudice (2005), has earned his right to stamp Anna Karenina with his elegant yet strikingly emotional direction. Plus, the whole deconstructed theatre set is a totally gutsy move that provides a relevant and poignant lens on AK while escaping the boring, traditionalist ways of adaptation. Besides, Wright’s signature is his long, panoramic single shots (see his Dunkirk scene and P&P ball scene), which work so well with AK’s theatrical scene changes and passionate dances.
And in case you didn’t think this movie was real, Tom Stoppard wrote the screenplay, so you know it’s legit.
Then, you’ve got the amazing cast. It’s near-perfection. Matthew MacFayden graduated from the Kevin Kline school of acting (thanks to critickate for the Kevin Kline comparison) and steals his scenes as Oblonsky.
Dolly becomes the new heart of the film under Kelly Macdonald. And anything with Ruth Wilson makes me squee. Keira Knightley does her Keira Knightley thing- I guess when something works, don’t fix it? I tend to really like the Keira Knightley thing though. For all her dramatics, she’s quite a subtle performer — you can tell so much about her character through the slightest twitch or turn of her head.
The only cast member who fell flat for me was Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky. Despite all Keira’s sexy glares and erotic jaw twitching, I couldn’t sense much chemistry between them. It’s not that Taylor-Johnson is miscast — he looks the part so well it’s almost creepy. Maybe it’s that Vronsky isn’t given much else to do except dance, laugh with soldier buddies, and listen to his mom? Still haven’t figured that one out yet.
But no worries, Jude Law’s there to seal the deal. In case you didn’t feel the chemistry between Anna and Vronsky, Jude Law’s awkward and imposing Alexei gives her enough reason to run off. Who would have thought Jude Law saying, “Time for bed” would be so cringe-worthy?
Wright’s adaptation succeeds where many others have failed. Instead of filming every chapter of the book to death, he focuses on small, important scenes, jam packs them with visual-emotional meaning, and uses the deconstructed theatre theme to unite it all together.
Simple, no? Well.
Here’s my main critique. I had tried in vain to finish reading the novel before seeing the film. But of course, being a full-time student, I only got up to page 107. Well, up until the point where the movie coincided with “page 107,” (basically the first 7 minutes of the movie), I was elated. Everything was excellent. Perfect movie.
Then, after that point, I got a bit lost. Don’t get me wrong. I could follow the plot. What I was lost on was the character’s motivations, the intricacies of their relationships, their basic raisons d’etre. It was almost as if the film was the perfect SUPPLEMENT to the book, but not quite a stand-alone adaptation. It was like reading a scholarly article that opens your eyes to the complexity of the original novel and makes you appreciate it so much more(maybe something called “The Theatrics of Love and Society in Anna Karenina”). But without the original, you’ve got no scholarly article, right?
Frankly, I think this emotional disconnect could have been solved by tacking on another 30 minutes to the film. The film itself only runs 2 hours and 10 minutes. I mean, honestly Joe, it’s a feat fitting 800 pages into 3 hours, let alone 2 hours and 40 minutes.