The genre of the historical period piece/classical literary adaptation has always been a tricky one to navigate as it is either filled with awards gold or overwrought stylized melodrama. In theatres tomorrow from director Joe Wright we get another cinematic adaptation of a literary classic that no director can seemingly do a good job with. Let’s look at the latest version of “Anna Karenina”.
Starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor Johnson
Directed by Joe Wright
This story unfolds in its original late-19th-century Russia high-society setting and powerfully explores the capacity for love that surges through the human heart, from the passion between adulterers to the bond between a mother and her children. As Anna (Knightley) questions her happiness and her existence with Karenin (Law) and the child they share when charismatic Count Vronsky (Taylor Johnson) comes into her life. Through her life changing affair with Vronsky the repercussions are felt throughout her family, friends, and community in ways that she never imagined.
With his fifth feature film and third period piece, director Joe Wright went all Baz Luhrmann on this story to the point that I can only hope he is sending him a royalty check. It’s a film that could only be described as a super stylized and over done, Wright lets the story unfold very much like a play with beautiful moving sets breaking the narrative wall as we watch characters move from set piece to set piece in an incredibly awkward fashion that while visually pleasing never took any consideration to the story or the characters. Watching the film you simply get the impression that the filmmaker was trying to be as flashy as possible and with those efforts we ended up with a result that was ultimately hollow and really uninteresting, despite a decent ensemble cast.
As a stoic and classic beauty that’s reminiscent of Hollywood’s yesteryear, it easy to understand why Keira Knightley keeps getting cast as these iconic period piece literary characters, however I can never seem to get drawn in by her performances in these films. So much of what she brings to the screen much like the look of the film comes off as overly manufactured and sterile. Knightley can stick out her lower jaw, scream, cry and emote as much as she wants, but it would help if the audience actually liked her. None of her character’s pain ever felt genuine and we never buy into her madness of insatiable love, instead something better suited for the live stage but with the intimacy of the big screen. Projecting out into a live audience is one thing, but on film things need to have some subtlety to them, and they never did as she simply went through the emotional motions because that’s what was on the page. Aaron Taylor Johnson’s Count Vronsky was cold and non-descript and Jude Law’s Karenin was the only performance in the film where any genuine emotion gets stirred up in the audience at all.
For a film that is supposed to deal with these issues of love and duty versus passion and desire, it was surprisingly ineffective as the overdone visuals and generic performances had me wishing for any possible reason to end the screening. I’ll always give some credit to anyone trying new and bold ways of moviemaking, but this was just a hyper stylized mess trying to disguise itself as great storytelling.
1 out of 5 stars.
“Anna Karenina” is now playing at theatres in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver; check with your local listings for show times.
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