Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina had a lot to live up to. First is, and most importantly in my opinion, is the undertaking of translated Tolstoy’s beautiful work into a film. Second is the fact that this book has already been made into multiple adaptations. Third is that he has continued to show his growth as an expert and masterful director, so the pressure was on to continue this streak.
I have to applaud Wright for putting everything on the line by creating a conceptual version of the film. Using the stage as the basis for the act that is participating in the game of society we see our characters move gracefully through the story. Setting and props moved with purpose and the camera cuts an exquisite path through the action. The actors move with the grace of ballet dancers as they dress, do paperwork and move through the sets.
Compared to the few other version of the movie I have seen I have to say I appreciate the amount of Levin they included in this film. Being a feature length film meant that all the story had to be constrained, but they at least gave us our beloved Levin’s most powerful scenes.
The acting was spot on. Matthew MacFadyen as Oblonksy was comical, from his mustache to the way his character was written. It thoroughly washed away any lingering thoughts of him as Mr. Darcy. Jude Law was a serious and religious Karenin, but was still able to pull off the more angry scenes. Keira Knightley as Karenina was something that I was concerned about, but I think she pulled it off well. From the moment Anna dances with Vronsky to her emotional downspiral of crazy and paranoia, she gives us the moment-by-moment change in emotions that Tolstoy wrote about. Toward the end when she is sitting at the train station we see the internal struggle and eventual solution she constructs without Knightley having to say a word. The calm that comes over her after the whirlwind of emotion was outstanding. In a book with so much internal dialogue I applaud the writers and actors for conveying the emotions of their character with class.
Levin was played by Domhnall Gleeson broke my heart continuously on screen. We see Kitty as he sees her, a vision in white surrounded by heavenly clouds, completing the image of angelic innocence he has constructed of her. When he is rejected the theater burst out with a collective “awww” of sympathy. During his later proposal scene we see him happy and yet I still got teary because of his amazing awkwardness and genuine love for Kitty.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky was seductive and heartbreaking. I loved the lingering shot of him lighting a cigarette and bringing it to his mouth. There are many lingering shots of him, so the audience is seduced as Anna is. His anguish over his horse’s fall is true and so is his patience with Anna at the end. We do not see him shoot himself after her illness, which is a decision I would love to know more about. I felt like we were going to get that since one of the promotional stills seemed to allude to that scene. Regardless, I think for the Vronsky created in this version Taylor-Johnson was fab.
Overall I loved it. I think it stood out as a conceptual version of a story that’s been adapted multiple times. The acting was loads better than I expected it to be and I didn’t feel myself getting angry at misrepresentations or exclusions in terms of Tolstoy’s work. If you are a fan of a toned down Baz Luhrmann then go check it out.
The ending was prime. We get to see Anna’s fall, but afterwards we still get to see the other characters as well (good job sticking to the book!). Levin has his revelation on life/death/love and Oblonsky seems meditative. We close with Karenin watching over Anna’s two children as they play. I could have been happier seeing Vronsky broken after her suicide. The last images we see of him are Anna’s mental concoctions of his new affair, which those of us who read the book know didn’t happen. It just left a bitter taste in my mouth because Vronsky did care about her and her crazy and audiences should be left knowing that he was true to her.