And now for something completely different: a brief review of Anna Karenina
After that nice cinephile post about Wong Kar-Wai I feel I should let you know that Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina is rubbish from beginning to end.
The main issue with it is that it thinks it’s Russian Ark, but it’s in fact Moulin Rouge-meets-Downton Abbey. (Lady Mary Crawley even turns up as a minor character!) My problem is mostly not with the silly conceit of setting the film in a theatre, which could possibly work even if it’s not so terribly original (hello Powell & Pressburger), but rather with - in order:
- Keira Knightley. She can’t act. I don’t care what you say. And she’s too young and skinny for Anna Karenina. In a world where Rachel Weisz exists, why oh why do we have to be put through this?
- Aaron Taylor-Johnson: he looks like Lord Flashheart, and he is as expressive as a cardboard cut-out. It’s hard to imagine why Anna would throw her entire life to the wind for this flimsy peroxide blond hipster moustache.
- The Levin/Kitty storyline gets short shrift again. Ok, I understand it’s not as attractive as the Anna/Vronsky plot, but it’s there because it matters to both the structure and the morals of the story. It’s also heart-breaking and frustrating, interesting and important. The two actors here do well with what they have - and the famous scene of their second marriage proposal is genuinely moving - but the script treats them in such a marginal way that both Kitty and Kostya (who should be the soul of the story where Anna is the body and the heart), come across as superficial.
- Jude Law actually does a pretty solid job in the film. But I never felt much sympathy for Karenin, and here I do. Is that right? I’m not sure.
- The biggest problem of all: the acting styles dramatically differ from one actor to the other - some appear to be in a Jane Austen adaptation for TV, some at the grand Opéra du Paris. The only one who understands that this adaptation’s concept calls for melodrama is Matthew MacFadyen, whose Stiva Oblonsky is a work of genius, a performance with a sense of tragicomedy worthy of a Gogol story.
- Am I the only one who found the continuity editing really messed up? If the aim was for a modern, expressionistic aesthetic with disrupted, fast cuts and hallucinatory visuals (perhaps translating the death-driven passion at the core of the relationship between Anna and Vronsky) then there wasn’t enough of it and what little there was wasn’t well done. Simply copying a few Scorsese shots (see: The Age of Innocence) without any substance just doesn’t cut the mustard. As Scorsese himself has found out.
So, to sum up: read the book - you won’t regret it. Pay to see this film - you might.