Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Directed by: Joe Wright (“Atonement”)
Written by: Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”)
Give filmmaker Joe Wright (“Atonement”) some credit for being so bold with his decision to make his new retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” something audiences have never experienced with this specific story. Not only does he direct it as if were a stage performance, Wright breaks down the wall between the production and his viewers and allows them to see all the backstage tasks it takes to put such a stylish and ornate project together. In doing so, we see sets and backdrops pieced together as actors take their marks, musicians walking through the film providing music for the picture and even a horse race taking place right on stage with real and painted patrons. It all makes for an eye-catching spectacle that breaks the traditional set-up of the cinematic costumed drama.
Besides the wonderfully choreographed scenes led by Wright and the beautiful art direction, the stand outs in “Anna Karenina” are the performances by Keira Knightley as the self-pitying title character and her distressed husband Minister Karenin played by Jude Law. Marital problems are a dime a dozen in these films, but the emotional anguish these two inflict on one another is noteworthy, especially with a piercing screenplay adapted from Tolstoy’s work by screenwriter Tom Stoppard (“Shakespeare in Love”). When Karenin tells Anna, “You are depraved; a woman without honor. I thank God the curse of love is lifted from me,” you can truly feel what betrayal meant in 19th century Russia – at least for them.
Despite a miscasting of a slightly absurd-looking Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Albert Nobbs”) as Anna’s lover Vronsky and a ham-fisted scene between actors Alicia Vikander (look out for her in Norway’s “A Royal Affair”) and Domhnall Gleeson (“True Grit”) with alphabet blocks, “Anna Karenina” is a nice change of pace to this classic tale. Tolstoy would be proud.