DVD Review - Anna Karenina (2012)

Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson
in "Anna Karenina" (2012)
Anna Karenina won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The frocks and gowns worn by Keira Knightley who plays the titular character are the stand-outs. Knightley is beautiful and her nude spread on the magazine cover of Tom Ford's Vanity Fair proves she has a nice body. Her costumes here do however make her more of an eye-catcher. The clothing put-on Jude Law who plays Anna's husband Karenin and the clothing put-on Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays Anna's extramarital affair Vronsky are nothing to dismiss either.

Anna Karenina was nominated for Best Original Score. I can't confidently comment on the music for this film, so I won't. Anna Karenina was also nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Production Design. It lost to Life of Pi and Lincoln respectively, but the camerawork and art direction are top notch. It's distinctive. It's curious, but it is distinctive.

Imperial Russia in the 1870s never looked so cloistered. Director Joe Wright decided to shoot the majority of this film on a sound stage or what looks like a theatre, and it's in contrast to how Wright made his previous works, which felt open and expansive. Anna Karenina feels closed-in. It feels small in scale. A person can feel the four, or in this case three, walls of the production.

Some of the scenes even transition as scenes do in stage plays where we see men moving set walls and furniture into place, and I don't know why. The movie is based on the novel by Tolstoy, screenplay by Tom Stoppard who is a famous playwright. Stoppard won the Oscar for writing Shakespeare in Love (1998), a film that takes place almost entirely inside a theater, but it worked for John Madden who directed Shakespeare in Love. It doesn't work for Joe Wright.

Wright has a horse race scene inside what looked like an opera house. The characters pretend to be on a horse track, but Wright and his production designer has it occur in a space that physically looks like an opera house and a long series of horses gallup through the stage. They look like real horses, though they might have been CGI. It's striking but nonsensical.

We're given this style right off the bat, so I became accustomed to it. Even for shots that were not done in the sound stage or theater felt as much. A shot of a train moving through Didcot Railway didn't seem like a real train and train tracks. It seemed like a miniature or a toy train set that Wright filmed, even when the reality is that it was an actual-size, steam locomotive.

The basic plot is a very compelling love triangle but it feels off-and-wrong too often, which turned me away from the main characters. Jude Law who made a name for himself for being the object of desire in films like The Talented Mr. Ripley and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is playing the opposite here. He's Karenin the cuckold who's balding and supposed to be unattractive. Given his behavior, even after Karenin learns about his wife's adultery, Law is attractive regardless.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is known for being the titular character in Kick-Ass (2010), a comic book geek who tries to be a crime fighter. Taylor-Johnson also co-starred in Albert Nobbs (2011) where he was a horny interloper at an English hotel. In both cases, Taylor-Johnson played someone who isn't or who ceases to be the object of desire. He's Count Vronsky here who pursues Anna with reckless abandon. Despite his pretty features, Taylor-Johnson initially comes off as unattractive. Vronsky basically stalks Anna.

Keira Knightley is known for playing stronger women. The fact that her character here has an affair and is happy about it, despite society frowning upon it, is fairly strong. Her neuroticism becomes overbearing. She keeps doubting Vronsky's love and keeps arguing with him for no reason. Her performance disconnected me from the ending and made me not care about it.

There's a B-story involving a man named Constatin who is Anna's relative and who returns to profess his love to a woman named Kitty. This B-story felt totally unnecessary. It could have been removed and not affected the main narrative whatsoever. Instead, Wright wastes time showing them playing blocks. It went on too long and bored me to sleep.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some sexuality and violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 9 mins.


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