All the World's a Stage
Despite its creativity and originality, Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina fails to pack the emotional wallop of previous film adaptations starring Greta Garbo and Vivien Leigh. Why? Because this latest screen version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel emphasizes changing sets as if a play is being rehearsed or put on while we’re watching.
As a viewer, I found it almost impossible to concentrate on the passion between the lovers, played by Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Instead, my mind kept spinning around wondering what type of set changes would be coming next. And I couldn’t help thinking how much better this film could be as a musical or an opera or a ballet. In fact, it’s almost a non-musical musical. So if a few songs and dances were added, it might be easier to suspend disbelief concerning the unusual storytelling process Wright -- who did such a great job helming Pride & Prejudice -- chose to use here.
Czarist Russia during the 1800s was not a good time for women. Anna Karenina (Knightley) learns how bad things can be, especially for a married woman who engages in an illicit affair. Anna’s husband Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), a much older man, is an important government official with little time for Anna and their young son. Although Anna tries to resist the advances of dashing Count Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), she finally begins a torrid relationship with him, one that causes a great deal of scandal and becomes humiliating for Alexei.
Pregnancy further complicates things, for Vronsky is the baby’s father. The rest of the film deals with how these three people deal with their problem, and it’s not a pretty sight for any of them. Each plays a key part in the tragedy that unfolds, but one of them suffers the most -- the woman, of course.
Knightley (Pride & Prejudice) looks gorgeous and projects suffering well; Law (Sherlock Holmes) appears thoroughly committed to his role here; and Taylor-Johnson (The Illusionist) exudes youthful energy. Too bad interactions among these characters take second place to the constant set changes swirling around them. Also on the positive side, beautiful period costumes (designed by Jacqueline Durran) abound and should receive Oscar notice this year.
While this Anna Karenina may not be one of my favorite films, I’ll be first in line at the box office if it ever gets re-made as a musical, even one with Tolstoy’s unhappy ending.
(Released by Focus Features and rated “R” by MPAA.)
For more information about Anna Karenina, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.