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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Elegant Drama "Anna Karenina" is Not Without Its Unfortunate Missteps

Leo Tolstoy's nineteenth century classic, Anna Karenina, which details the scandalous and ultimately tragic affair between a married aristocrat and her lover, gets a makeover that is as puzzling as it is fanciful.

Starring Hollywood's go-to British belle, Keira Knightley, this new adaptation keeps with the original story of the scandalous tryst but adds one particularly odd element--choreography. But not like your run-of-the-mill Guys and Dolls dance in the streets number; it's more like dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, then the characters shimmy into a random rhythmic and perfectly in sync routine. The first time you see it, it's spastic. By the second, third and fourth times, you've become peculiarly comfortable with the eccentricity of it all.

The film as a whole has a very absorbing charm about it, even with its missteps, which don't end at the various jitterbugs. While Knightley embodied both the regality and sophistication of a rebellious woman in the era, her performance did borderline on shrill at points, especially when Anna becomes erratic during multiple quarrels with her paramour, Vronksy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). But just when she's about to take Anna far over the edge before her inevitable demise, Knightley pulls it back. Aside from those spells, Knightley's portrayal is as in tune with the original character as it can be.

However, Taylor-Johnson's restrained depiction of Vronksy is unrecognizable here. If Knightley's performance was acute in certain scenes, his was confusingly hesitant. At times it almost seemed like Vronksy was scared of Anna, which was not the case in source material. In addition, Taylor-Johnson's face was so blank at times that you never knew what emotion he was trying to emit at a given time. For a man during this time that was involved in such an illicit predicament with an often flamboyant woman, you'd think he'd have more of a reaction to it. That saying, the love scenes between the two seemed more orchestrated and less passionate, which made it seem that Knightley was more committed to the character than Taylor-Johnson.

On the other hand, Jude Law's restrained performance of Anna's husband, Karenin, was perfectly controlled and pressure-filled without being overtly so. He makes Karenin fearful to watch, while at the same time he elicits empathy from the audience, especially during those scenes during which Karenin's undying love for his wife becomes torturous for him to bare as her heart belongs to another.

While director Joe Wright's (Hanna, Atonement), along with screenwriter Tom Stoppard's (Shakespeare in Love) elegant drama does have its head-scratching moments, one cannot deny the gorgeous cinematography and beautifully detailed layout of each scene as it glides into the next. Stoppard had the tough task of not only illuminating the story of the central trio, but also making each of the supporting characters (including Alicia Vikander's shrinking violet, Kitty) a realized piece  of the tale. It becomes a bit weighty when you step back and look at the entire piece, but each pocket of the film captures certain themes of its time--lust, betrayal, love, and class wars--while appropriately making each less definitive.

It's far from a perfect film, but Anna Karenina should be praised for its attempt to reinvent the wheel of stuffy costume-clad Masterpiece Theater for the big screen.

Rating: B-


Dan O. said...

Good review Candice. It's very pretty and has a couple of good performances from the cast, but the story is just a bore, which is a total shame because it didn't start out that way. It begins very fast-paced and quick, but then starts to get very slow, boring, and tedious, almost to the point of where I nodded-off.

Brittani Burnham said...

That necklace Anna is wearing in that picture you used - could not stop staring at it. That thing was gorgeous. I agree Law gave the best performance, and saying Taylor-Johnson looked afraid of Anna is perfect. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was weird about his performance, but that's it.

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