Anna Karenina (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
15Dec/120

Anna Karenina (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Anna Karenina (2012)

Russian literature does not lend itself to the happiest of endings. This is the moral that my wife learned in the course of Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, a rather bold and vivacious take on the novel by Leo Tolstoy that is envisioned in a way that I'm sure Tolstoy never anticipated but could possibly have tickled him greatly.

You know. If Russians were ticklish.

Tolstoy's rather damning portrait of the dying ways of Imperial Russia has been re-imagined for its umpteenth screen version. Rather than tackle the material in a straightforward manner, Wright sets a majority of the film's actions within a dilapidated theater, with only a few scenes taking place away from its confines. This lends itself to a few dizzying set pieces as the artifices connect, and while this dazzles at first, it proves to give the film a quick pace and snappy feel that's mostly lacking whenever the words 'Russian drama' are normally tossed about.

"What's this written on my brim? Blast, it's in Russian, and I can't make a word of it out."

That's good news for the titular Anna (Kiera Knightley), whose desires tap into a long stagnant well of passion that she never knew she had. Unfortunately, these urges emerge for a rather dapper looking soldier named Vronksy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and not for her husband Karenin (Jude Law). Vronsky is young and unashamed to be seen with a married woman, while Karenin has a more intimate relationship with the laws he works to pass day in and day out.

The uncomfortable love triangle between the three is the bulk of the movie, though there are quite a few side players who dart in and out of the proceedings. Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) is the most notable, as his love story with Princess Betsy (Ruth Wilson) serves as a direct counterpoint to the bourgeois complications occurring in the main story. Levin has passion and desire, but, unlike Anna, is forced to temper them because of his place in society.

Levin's story is also, notably, the only one to take place away from the confines of the sets. His world is open but chilly, and his place-- a landowner with communist leanings-- is shown to be the most sympathetic branch of the story.

How much sad Jude Law can you handle?

Poor Anna, meanwhile, is trapped in the theater and the petty backbiting of Russian society. Now that she's unleashed her feelings, she can't bottle them back up, and the whole of society treats her as a vile thing. Worse, she unreasonably expects people to accept who she's become-- outrageous, I know.

Eventually Anna finds that she can't escape the theater, and sees no choice left. Knightly, who has made a mini-career working with Wright (see Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) again demonstrates why they're such a potent pair: he brings out the light in her eyes, and she brings out the life in his films.

Anna Karenina is probably still the weakest of the three, though, since the movie begins to grind after its first hour when its theatrical bag of tricks runs low. The movie isn't as passionate or as sad as it could be, but it's interesting and honest which is something many adaptations have simply neglected.

Posted by Danny

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