Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Michelle Dockery, Emily Watson, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Holliday Grainger, Shirley Henderson, Bill Skarsgard and Cara Delevingne
Anna Karenina is the third collaboration between the director-actress pair of Joe Wright and Keira Knightley having previously worked together in "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement". This movie as you all know is adapted from the well known 1877 novel of the same name by Leo Tolstoy. Tom Stoppard is the screenwriter here. Anna Karenina revolves around the titular character who is a married aristocrat and socialite and her affair with Count Vronsky. Her life takes some unexpected turns, filled with tragedy and passion. The most unique thing about this film is that its setup is not conventional, it seems theatrical because its done in a theater style. Curtain raises as the movie begins and you feel like you are watching a play instead of a movie. The year is 1874, we get a peak inside the house of Prince Stepan "Stiva" Oblonsky who is getting ready for a shave while his wife, Daria "Dolly" greets her five children with kisses and hugs. Oblonsky is then seen with the attractive governess of his children in a closet. Dolly kicks him out when she sees a note by the governess in his office. Anna Karenina who is Oblonsky's sister finds out about this and decides to go to Moscow to help save the marriage despite her husband, Alexi Karenin warning her about fixing problems of others. They of course live in St. Petersburg, Anna leaves for Moscow leaving her son Serozha behind. She meets Countess Vronskaya on train, who is Count Alexi Vronsky's mother and is going for her son and Kitty's possible engagement. Kitty by the way is Oblonsky's sister-in-law who rejects Oblonsky's friend Konstatin Dimitrivich Levin's proposal first. Anna upon meeting Vronsky at the station, immediately feels an attraction. Anna does what she is there for, attends a ball where she kind of upstages Kitty and leaves immediately. Vronsky follows her and confesses his attraction for her but she tells him to go back who refuses. Several more parties and balls happen and people around them starts to notice and begins gossiping about the closeness of both Anna and Vronsky. Karenin too is upset by this but Anna in an awkward conversation denies this, she and Vronsky then make love in a hotel.
Boy! The plot is a mess here. I guess its suppose to be a mess. What I just wrote about, happens in like the first half hour or so. There is so much more, so many sub-plots, so many on and off meetings and passion, disgrace and betrayals. Joe Wright opted to show this film as if it is all happening on a theater stage to get across his point for the Russian aristocracy living a very stagy life. I can only applaud his ambition and his daring approach to a piece of literature that is already so cold. You can call it The Great Gatsby of 2012 I guess. The reason why I didn't really like this movie as much as I expected to is because this movie keeps its viewers at arm's length. Wright may have deliberately tried to show how superficial those people were, how they were so unlikable, stiff and cold. But then he completely forgets why he is doing whatever it is that he is doing. He pulls our attention and the movie's focus from where it should be to the elaborate and big production. His focus is more on the brilliant designs, the furniture, the stage, the costumes, basically everything superficial and glossy. Though here I will truly sing the praise for its production design done by Sarah Greenwood. Brilliant, colorful, detailed and just superbly looking. From smoky stations to the bright countryside, the confounding homes to the strained halls. The big and lavish houses feels forever empty and the public places feels forever filled with people who'll rather care about what is going on in the other person's life then their own. Reminds me of what Karenin advices to Anna before she embarks on a trip, where she will inevitably become the victim of gossip herself. He tells her to not indulge herself in other people's matters. Which is what everyone does in the movie. Not only the production design but the costume design by Jacqueline Durran is exquisite and rich. Anna's costumes seem to be designed in terms of her ever changing mood, the consequences she gets herself into. The more darker her costume, the more passionate she is. The more lighter, like the white dresses, the more calm and peaceful she seems to be. Same praise goes to the makeup, sound design and of course, the wonderful score by Dario Marianelli. Both Anna Karenina and Les Miserables last year were technically masterful, their scope and ambition reaching far beyond anything else. While the latter gets most of its help from the songs and performances, this film fails to deliver anything significant.
Keira Knightley's performance might be her least memorable turn then the former two films with Wright but she does gives the best performance in the entire movie. It is definitely because we are not much feeling anything for her character, that any of her pain and anguish doesn't seem to be effecting us on any level. Wright should have explored this with a little more depth, she is such a complicated character but in fact, her depiction comes off as a woman who is simply (if i can use that word) a whore. I can see she is much more than that, very complicated woman. Her constant shifts of psyche or where she stands with either Vronsky or Karenin, the way those awful predators of people around her effects her or how her own sense of moral makes her do what she does. Its just plain sad that Wright sees all of them as equally awful people. The ones who are rather good by heart with pure instincts, he seems to be in doubt of them. It all looks as if he is questioning them, making them prove that they are in fact good hearted people and even then will doubt them. Knightley however is able to portray her character as a woman suddenly experiencing something far passionate and ecstatic than she ever did in her life. She portrays Anna as a normal wife at first but by the time this movie ends, she have gone through so much. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was simply, a bad decision to be casted in such a role in such a movie opposite Knightley. I couldn't feel much of what I should have during their passionate encounters, we had Knightley to do that for us though. Jude Law looked really good in his character, a steadfast and proud but very reserved man with his own share of moral decline but much more mature than most of the other characters. Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Macdonald, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams etc were nice in the movie as well. Still, no one but Knightley delivered a better performance. For a movie that is suppose to be about how the society then, their history and their situations burdened them with so much, it doesn't deliver any of that in a convincing way. We are just watching them from very far, as dressed up people who are seen going here and there but actually nowhere.
Very poorly written and not very well directed, Anna Karenina in the end comes off as an expensive failure. The structure is hollow, the depiction is shallow and it is something you would rather admire for its technical brilliance than anything else. Anna Karenina starts feeling like a bore after a while, having not been fully fleshed out or given much importance, the characters become nothing more than puppets in the hands of a filmmaker who should have thought better.