I popped the DVD in, started watching, and thought “you’ve got to be kidding.” The stagey, show within a show look to Anna Karenina is more than a little pretentious. But wait, there’s more. The visual approach works, and it is fantastic.
Anna Karenina is a highly melodramatic tale. It’s all about Imperial Russia. The characters are emotional and deeply soulful, old school Russians. The visual style is amazing – rich, vibrant colors, images of workers tilling the golden fields in unison, grand parties with elaborate ballgowns (the film won a well-deserved Academy Award for costume design), and Keira Knightley fetchingly attired in great necklaces and lots of fur. Parts of the film take place in a theater, and it can be hard to tell the actors apart from the audience, which helps make the point that society is always watching, and judging (kind of like this blog!)
The acting and script are not nearly as good as the art direction. Jude Law plays the dour Karenin against type and nails it. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Vronsky and lacks the charisma needed for the role. Not only does Keira Knightley have wondrous bone structure, but she is reasonably convincing as a virtuous wife destroyed by passion. Part of the reason the acting isn’t tremendous is because the actors are given too little to work with. Maybe I was too taken with the cinematography to pay attention, but the story skips around and is hard to follow. Despite these foibles, this film is worth seeing. Visually, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Rating: *** (out of ****)