Friday, 8 February 2013

Anna Karenina, Movie Review, Universal Pictures ***1/2

Movie review
Anna Karenina, based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy
Directed by Joe Wright 
Screenplay by Tom Stoppard

Universal Pictures
Stars: ***1/2 

 I reviewed this movie at a Media Preview provided by Universal Pictures. 
This review is not for the Herald Sun. KH
Joe Wright’s production of Anna Karenina is sumptuous and exotic, filling every frame with vivid colour and painstaking period detail evoking Imperial Russia in 1874.

Tom Stoppard’s inspired adaptation of Tolstoy’s renowned, romantic but tragic novel, draws on his background as a writer of stage plays by stylising and theatricalising the dramatic narrative.

Scenes begin as theatrical episodes set on a 19th century, proscenium arch stage and, between scenes, characters stroll along the precarious, wooden gantries above the stage, echoing the artifice and deception of the aristocratic society of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The scenery is composed of painted backdrops and theatrical props, and dancers populate ballrooms and inns alike with complex choreography or frozen, stylised tableaux.

These artificial scenes bleed into realistic, elaborate interiors of the cities and the frozen landscapes of the Russian countryside with bold invention.

With Sarah Greenwood’s luscious production design and Stoppard’s imaginative script, Joe Wright creates a visual feast.

The major problem with Jo Wright’s direction is that the intense emotion of Tolstoy’s novel is diluted so that we skate across the surface of the anguish and despair that should leave us weeping at Anna’s final demise.

Keira Knightley has a fine featured, delicate beauty of Karenina, but she is acting by numbers, her expressions and exclamations being contrived and mechanical and, ultimately, predictable and annoying. One can’t help but crave the subtlety of the young Francesca Annis in the BBC version.

Jude Law is Anna’s stoical, repressed but intensely loyal husband, Alexei Karenin and his portrayal of this staid man’s loss of faith is surprising and subtle. Of course, in his youth, Law might have played the young love interest.

However, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as her vain lover, Count Vronsky, is marvellously pretty, sultry, narcissistic and maddeningly ignorant of the social and personal disaster that he visits upon his conquest, Anna.

Matthew MacFadyen is charming and cheerfully brash and brazen as Anna’s brother, Stiva, whose sexual appetites for pretty, young things unjustly do not cause him the fatal trouble that are caused by Anna’s one affair.

Despite its emotional limitations, this cunningly wrought film injects new energy, visual delights and unquestionable imagination into Tolstoy’s story of love, lust, prejudice sexism and betrayal.

By Kate Herbert

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