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Anna Karenina - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Anna Karenina
Directing: C+
Acting: A-
Writing: B-
Cinematography: C
Editing: C-

I'm still trying to figure out what the makers of this year's -- after a great many, really enough, over the years -- Anna Karenina were thinking. I'm not sure I'll ever come to any conclusion. Well, except that even though I never read the source novel, I can tell you this is one crappy literary adaptation.

This was directed by Joe Wright, who also did Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), two other period pieces that were both excellent. What the hell is he smoking now? Well, I guess you can't win them all.

Anna Karenina fails in concept and execution -- in that, it comes out of the gate with a concept, and then refuses to stick to it. I get the desire to bring something fresh to an oft-told story, but this just plain doesn't work. The movie is presented like it's a filmed stage play, with intricate set changes happening amidst and around the actors. I want to say the whole movie is presented this way, but therein lies the fatal flaw: all of a sudden, we're looking at exterior shots in wide-open outdoor spaces. The hell? The movie thus defeats its own declared purpose.

There's even a horse race scene, and that scene is shown like it's on a stage play. The camera takes the audience-eye view (something that occurs often), and we see a jumble of horse riders zip by from stage right to stage left. There's an accident, and the horse rider and horse trips over the lights at the edge of the stage -- and seemingly into the audience. Except then he's on ground, or maybe another stage floor. Whatever, I can't keep up.

I kid you not, there's one scene at the end where the theatre "audience" area is converted into the field that was just before presented on screen as one of the aforementioned outdoor exterior wide shots. As in, you're in a theatre, except the floor and stage are a field. I suspect this was meant as a bridge between the "reality" world and the "stage" world that's supposed to feel like a play, but by then, you're just fed up with the whole thing.

I'm at a loss as to why this movie hasn't been panned more by other critics. Okay, so the story itself is actually pretty interesting, and the acting across the board is as good as anyone could want, by a rather long list of very talented actors. Keira Knightley is the title character, surprised by her sudden passionate connection to Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who is scandalously not her husband. Her husband, Karenin, is played by Jude Law with a curious internal struggle between seething broken-heartedness and almost shocking tolerance. And to the credit of screen writer Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), the script juggles a rather large number of characters without making it confusing. And these are portrayed by the likes of Emily Watson, Matthew Macfadyen, and Kelly Macdonald, among others too numerous to list here.

But keeping the characters straight does not prevent this wildly uneven script from being confusing. Consider our introduction to Anna's brother, Oblonsky (Macfadyen). He's getting his face shaved, with lovely music and the camera twirling around him. And with two quick movements, the barber has Oblonsky's face finished, clearly creating the expectation of some kind of light-hearted story. And this story is anything but.

If this Anna Karenina had been told in a much more straightforward way, with the very same level of skill in performances, it could have been totally absorbing, rather than the off-putting movie it is. Did these actors have any idea this is what they signed up for? For their sakes, I can only hope not.

I don't even know what else to say about it. Much of the scenery is quite pretty; it's just put in needlessly confusing, strange, and awkward contexts. Keira Knightley is lovely. So is everyone else in this movie, really. They all just happen to have been grossly misused and wasted.

Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson prove that you don't have to have read the source material to know that a film adaptation is shit.

Overall: C+
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