Posted on 12/18/12 11:28 PM
"A bit too cold, a bit too rushed, but nonetheless gripping and inventive. The result is a different stage on a staged cinema."
Any two hours adaptation will not be able to properly articulate the story of Anna Karenina. Not even Joe Wright's endearing skills as a director could have lifted this story from under Tolstoy's palms. Taking in mind that this would not be just an adaptation but also a stylized slice of russian cuisine, I reminded myself to not go into this film with many expectations. Fortunately the film feels like an interesting mosaic for me. Wright's half-innovative decision to stage this film as a theater set-piece added not only more class to the film but also a subtle homage to the russian theater. What it also gave is a better excuse for a somehow distant and hurried script by Tom Stoppard.
The story itself is not the issue here considering the small length of the film but the way it occasionally jumped through time felt a bit out of control. Like they couldn't hold the reindeers in place. Either from excitement or the pure thrill of adventure, I felt they left all the story transitions sinking in their own painful echoes in a very spacious and dusty cellar while they were polishing the production.
Anna Karenina is THE story of a troubled woman, ready to give away everything for true love. It's the Bible of women in love and it should have been treated like a parent would treat his own children: with kindness, love, and appreciation. The love is absent. It isn't absent from the story as a theme but it is not involved in providing a strong emotional core. The film feels so cold and stagnates inside our hearts that we're only left with appreciation for performances, music and technical design. The story doesn't hit, doesn't impress, doesn't change, and for it sure doesn't provoke. It doesn't create an atmosphere and it gets lost after the ball scene. I have much sympathy for the ball scene because it's the catalyst for everything that happens afterwards and it surely feels like Wright put a lot of emphasis on that piece. I like how he plays with intimacy and how he gives it a special shadow each time something intimate happens on screen. I like the aura he gives to each character and how well that embodies the actors' performances. You can instantly discover the goofiness, the stoicisim, the arrogance, the passion, or the diffidence in each character before you get to meet them and see how they behave.
Performances definitely help even though Keira Knightley's performance could have been a bit more dynamic than it feels. She's great but there's something there that's missing and I'm trying to figure out if it's her or if it's the direction and even the story that pulls me back a bit from fully enjoying her work. Jude Law does a wonderful job as the imposing and portly Karenin, as well as Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the suave and cunning Vronsky, Matthew MacFadyen as the comical Oblonski or Ruth Wilson as the warm and tenacious Princess Betsy Tverskoy. Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kitty (Alicia Vikander) also develop a believable relationship that goes from innocent ignorance to honest maturity.
Where Anna Karenina succeeds the most is in it's magnetic theatrical staging of it's scenes. It's ravashing to watch and while dizzy at first, it becomes a great trick to slip these characters and their stories through your veins. Seamus McGarvey, Wright's trustful cinematographer, lands some great shots but they could have tweaked down the bloom and the blur a bit and increase the contrast to give the film a more glossy and crisp look. I hope the BluRay will look much better than the film did in theater because this one has plenty of colors to show and it would be a pity if the quality would be as foggy as it is in the theater. Other than that the production is great on all levels: costumes, set design, make-up, you name it. Dario Marianelli also doesn't miss the chance to put his stamp on this film and creates a beautiful score that mixes both the russian and french musical culture. A combination that plays smoothly since the russian aristocracy is portrayed as people that borrow the french social climate into their own world to make things more interesting and exciting.
Wright's adaptation of Tolstoy's novel is not a mistake in any way. It's a bold film that tries to tell a story known by millions of people in a different way than we are used to imagine it. It works, it's intuitive, it's bohemic, but also a bit vapid when using the original material and lacks continuity between some of the most important scenes. Anyone has the right to challenge the purpose of creating such a film if it's known from the very start that a two hours adaptation has small chances of making justice to this literature heavyweight. I'd argue that doing that is also both childish and cinical. Wright did it because he believed in it, he believed that it will resonate with someone. Nobody would be able to pour so much detail in a half filled glass if total devotion and love wouldn't be involved. After all, the result is not just a decent film. The result is a different stage on a staged cinema.
Technical Execution: 9.2
Replay Value: 8.0