Mind you, Joe Wright is my favorite English director with his Pride & Prejudice and Hanna being two of my all-time favorite films and the Dunkirk scene in Atonement being the most amazing continuous camera-shot since the dawn of cinema.
Let me step back and repeat my belief that a film has to stand on its own, meaning the viewer shouldn’t have to know anything about the book from which it’s drawn or what critics say the filmmaker was attempting to do before seeing it. Being true to its style or setup and being entertaining to its audience are the only issues of importance.
And, since the average film viewer sees only 6 films a year, it’s my intent to point them in the right directions.
Well, then, let's start with the good things about Anna Karenina.
Wright and Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, aided by Production Designer Sarah Greenwood and Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, all of whom worked on Atonement, have created lush, sometimes breathtaking images of the late 19th century Russian milieu.
Jude Law as Anna’s husband Karenin, Matthew MacFayden (Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice) as Anna’s buffoon brother Oblonsky, Kelly MacDonald as Oblonsky’s wife Dolly and Alicia Vikander as Kitty, the young woman spurned by Anna’s lover Count Vronsky, all turned in superb performances.
Now, the bad…
All the world may be a stage, but portraying a film on a stage, though amusing at times, just didn’t work; mainly, because the setup was violated by moving back and forth from the stage to real out-of-doors sets. Another problem is that theatrical acting is different from film acting and using one style in the other doesn’t ring true.
And, so, the worst…Anna Karenina is a story of passion. And, though I’ve always been a huge fan of Keira Knightly, since I first saw her in Bend It Like Beckham, here she was as passionless and cold as Napoleon found the Russian winter. The above-mentioned actors acted; she just said words. However, I can’t totally blame her because she was supposed to be swept off her feet by Count Vronsky, played by the totally miscast Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who gets minus points for sex-appeal. I mean, really? Perhaps she needed glasses.
Because she starts out on such a bland note with such a bland lover, Knightly’s performance is always in question, even when it warms up later in the film. Sorry to say, we couldn’t wait until she stepped in front of a train. And some viewers didn’t. This is the first film I’ve seen this year where I saw people leave during the screening. When a baby cried on screen, my viewing companion leaned over and whispered, “That’s how I feel.” Ouch!