Anna Karenina is cold and whirling but still furious with passion and sadness
‘Anna Karenina’ is a very good adaptation of the classic novel, but it oddly feels both too long and rushed.
Rich people sure have it tough, don’t they? They suffer from the very worst maladies known to humanity: ennui, boredom, jealousy of others’ even greater wealth, the list goes on. But perhaps that’s a bit too much — sometimes even the rich suffer from true pain.
Anna Karenina is the latest movie to attempt an adaptation of the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy, which tells the tale of love, intrigue, and politics among the Russian upper class during a chaotic historical period. Princess Anna (Keira Knightley, pairing up with director Joe Wright for the third time) is married with children to the older Count Alexei Karenin (Jude Law, made up to look frumpy), an important political figure. But when she visits her brother Stiva (Matthew Macfadyen) and his wife to deal with the aftermath of his adultery, she meets the handsome and charming cavalry officer Alexei Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of the vastly different Kick-Ass), and is instantly connected, although she initially denies. At the same time, Vronsky is involved with Anna’s sister-in-law’s younger sister Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who is also the attention of scruffy landowner Levin (Domhnall Gleeson).
Marginally complicated so far. But the movie stops rushing after a bit, and actually starts to take its time building these people, letting you get to know them (most of them, anyway) — so that, for example, Stiva becomes a constant source of humor and delight among all the seriousness and heartache. There is an intriguing element to the movie, in that it is presented in a very surreal manner (with varying degrees of “realism” throughout) partially taking place on an actual theater stage. I won’t spoil the specifics, but it does say something about the nature of the story and the characters in that it’s all about the audience and the “show” of it all.
The movie builds this tension to a tortuous, tense, and terrible degree until it explodes into passion and jealousy — and suddenly it’s a different movie again. We spend a bit of time with the secondary story of Levin, his building romance with Kitty, and various struggles of his own — but the movie (although it’s over two hours long) cuts his story a bit short in a few ways. I haven’t read the book, and was a bit confused by a few plot threads raised and dropped without notice. This “purer” love story is the orbiting plot around the primary darker tale of Anna’s affair, which is acted impeccably for the most part … the truth is that although Keira Knightley is fantastic in both subdued and crazy parts of this performance and Matthew Macfadyen is hilarious and light, the rest are so subtle they are practically nothing. Or so over the top they seem out of place. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was fine, although it’s hard to say if he was given much to do other than smirk and look at Keira Knightley with burning ardor.
After the movie ends, you may find yourself wondering if we were really supposed to empathize with Anna at all after everything she does. Do you get caught up in the scandalous romance or can you see the seams unravel? Either way, it’s beautiful to look at and both painful and intriguing to watch.