Anna Karenina: a forgettable and tedious adaptation

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – the opening sentence of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina is a stunning classic of Russian literature. However, this latest adaptation of the novel fails to portray the sweeping, epic grandeur and the passionate emotion of the novel. As a fan of Russian literature and costume dramas, I wanted to like it but it was tedious and forgettable, to say the least. Starring Keira Knightley as a pouting Anna and directed by Joe Wright (who has directed Keira Knightley in two previous films – Pride and Prejudice in 2005 and Atonement in 2008), the filmmakers made an interesting choice to set this adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel in a theater.

It is an innovative way of filming a movie and there are certain scenes in which the choreography is very powerful, for example, a scene during a grand ball. When Anna and Count Vronsky are dancing together, the other couples on the dance floor freeze into stillness, motionless in the intricate positions of their dance. This creates a striking effect, with the focus immediately drawn to Anna and Vronsky.

However, Keira Knightley’s performance as Anna trips over its Russian full-skirted dress and falls flat. This is the third Joe Wright film in which she is the star actress and in the previous two, she was very good. Atonement, an adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan, stands out as one of Knightley’s best performances (arguably, the best) to date. But in this, she lacks genuine emotion, other than a kind of hysterical infatuation for Vronsky. We are meant to truly believe that Anna and Vronsky give up everything to be together and have an all-consuming love but that really doesn’t come across and the film takes away the complexity of Tolstoy’s great work of literature.

The opulent costumes are spectacular and the theatrical sets in the movie are exquisite in their detail. But all that beauty left me feeling a little cold. It is the human stories which interest me and we need to see them portrayed in all their rawness and realism. In many scenes the theatrical device feels gimmicky and contrived, setting the audience apart from the action. For me, it dehumanized the characters and failed to draw me fully into the story. When a film fails to make you care about what happens to its characters, it is not to be recommended.

Advertisements

In the spirit of the season…

…here is a list of 2012’s best movies (IMHO). It’s the end of another year and it wouldn’t be New Year’s Eve without umpteen lists everywhere you look, reviewing and recapping the year’s news, politics, mindless gaffes by D-list celebrities etc. So here is my list of my top 5 movies of 2012! Happy New Year’s Eve.

#5 – Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – a thematic choice, considering the world was supposed to end in 2012 (but I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t end after all).

#4 – Anna Karenina – I didn’t like Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Anna but this movie deserves to win awards for its beautiful costume design and spectacular jewels.

#3 – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – humorous and ultimately very moving. And the cast of actors is fantastic: talent personified.

#2 – Silver Linings Playbook – Talking of talent, this movie isn’t running low on it either. I went to see it a week ago (you can read my review of it here) and it is one of the best movies I have seen all year. It is so much better than the trailer makes it look. In fact, if you haven’t seen the trailer yet, don’t! Just go see the movie. Silver Linings Playbook is a beautifully directed piece of cinema and it deserves to win all four of its Golden Globe nominations.

#1 – The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster - all rights remain with original owner(s).

The Hunger Games official theatrical poster – all rights remain with original owner(s).


I am a fan of the books and, for the most part, the movie did not disappoint. For a detailed critique, see my review of it here.