Sunday, December 23, 2012

Page to Screen: Anna Karenina 2012

Director Joe Wright is no stranger to bringing literature to the silver screen, having directed the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and the 2007 adaptation of Atonement.  Now, he brings us a brand new adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic tale of passion, betrayal, and true love.  The film stars Keira Knightley as Anna, Jude Law as Karenin, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky, Domhnall Gleeson as Levin, and Matthew Macfadyen as Oblonsky.

I left the theater unsure as to how I really felt about the movie.  I liked some aspects while I found others to be somewhat odd.  Here are some of my overall thoughts from the film:

-When I first heard that Keira Knightley was going to be playing Anna, I felt that to be a case of miscasting.  After finishing the film, I still felt that to be a case of miscasting.  While she certainly wasn't horrible, she just didn't play the character as that sensuous, voluptuous, almost larger than life woman that I pictured while reading the book.  I guess she just left me a little cold.  On a side note, it was pretty great to see Lizzy and Darcy together again on screen.

-I felt that most of the other actors hit the mark (or close to it).  Jude Law was stellar as Karenin, a man who has subverted his passions to his role in Russian society.  Taylor-Johnson is adequate as Vronsky, though perhaps a little on the sulky side at times.  MacFadyen brings comic relief to his role as Oblonsky, and Gleeson pours forth the earthy heart and soul of Levin.

-Wright chose to film most of the movie inside an old Russian theater, the point of which is to show that society in Moscow is all theatrics, putting on the face that is necessary, while life in the country (shot in the exterior) is real.  It is a bold move, but one that does not always work.  In the opening scene we move through time at almost breakneck pace, sets whirling and changing constantly as characters are introduced.  It is all pretty dizzying and not easy to keep with if you don't already know who everyone is.  Also, there is no consistency as some Moscow scenes are not set theatrically.  Some of the scenes that did benefit from the stage setting were the ball where Vronsky and Anna dance together and the horse race scene, the tension of both gaining from the closed in surroundings.

-Those who have read the novel will note that this is a pretty bare bones adaptation story wise.  Tolstoy's commentary on Russian life and spirituality are nowhere to be found.  And while there is plenty of time to flesh out characters in a 900 page novel, that is not true of a 90 minute film.  Having said that, I didn't find it to be that bad, and people new to the film will be able to follow along pretty easily once they sort out who all of these characters are.

-The story does not shy away from some of the moral questions the book asks.  In our world, we assume that the love we feel in the moment is the love that is right.  The film shows that sometimes, what we want is not what is right and that there are consequences to the choices we make.  

-Lovers of British TV will see lots of familiar faces popping up here and there like Olivia Williams, Ruth Wilson, and Michelle Dockery.  I went to see it with a friend and we were constantly whispering "Oh look!  It's so and so from such and such!"

-The costumes and set pieces were GORGEOUS!!  They seemed to create the illusion of a 19th century child's playroom full of rich colors, well dressed dolls, and extravagantly detailed pop-up books.  There was definitely an artistic eye applied to this film.

I do recommend seeing this film if you haven't already.  While it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, there are aspects that are worth taking in.  It is a visually bold film and will probably leave traces of itself in the films that come after it.  Have you seen the film?  If so, tell us what you thought of it. 



hopeinbrazil said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I was unsure about whether to see this or not, but now I think I'll give it a try.

Hannah said...

I have seen worse book-to-screen adaptations but this movie still left a sour taste in my mouth. The theatrical setting was distracting and - I completely agree - Keira Knightley *was* miscast as Anna. But those aren't even my biggest problems with the movie. Levin is one of my favourite fictional characters and I enjoy his story far more than Anna's - but Levin gets barely any screentime in this movie and he's very underdeveloped. The movie is much too focused on Anna and this really bothered me. I'd say that this movie is still worth a watch for the costumes, Jude Law and Matthew MacFadyen but I'm not a fan.