I think it’s safe to say that regardless of how well this film does in the categories of Costume, Music and Cinematography at this year’s Oscars, nobody will be offering Ms. Karenina any Mother of the Year Awards.
I am not afraid to admit that I was a big fan of director Joe Wright’s last two collaborations with Kiera Knightley, Atonement and Pride & Prejudice. Those two films are some of the best examples of common ground I have with my girlfriend when it comes to our taste in movies, and as such I was looking forward to finally seeing Anna Karenina in theaters with her. Having now seen it, I can honestly say that if I hadn’t known it before I would never have guessed that the three films were all done by the same man. Aside from the visual flourishes it has been nominated for, Anna Karenina consistently chooses style over substance, resulting in an extremely slow and uninvolving cinematic soap opera.
Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.
*As a quick note, I HAVE NOT read the book, so I am judging the movie solely on it’s cinematic value
I think if I were to narrow it down to one thing that made me dislike Anna Karenina, it would be the titular character herself. Anna (Kiera Knightley) comes across as an incredibly selfish and impulsive woman, and her entire story arc seems to be somewhere along the lines of “Woe is me, why can’t I have my cake and eat it too?”. Her affair with Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) takes center stage for the majority of the film, yet we aren’t really given any reason to sympathize with the lovers. Anna’s husband (Jude Law) is stern and emotionless, yes, but certainly not abusive. The only thing standing in Anna’s way of being with Vronsky is the fact that it would mean her exile from the life of luxury she’s led all of these years. Oh, that and the fact that she wouldn’t be able to see her son, Seryozha, after the divorce. I say this as an afterthought because the film seems to give as much attention to this issue as Anna does; very little. For most mothers, you’d at least expect it to be a pretty tight race between the love of her son and the love of some guys she just met, but Anna’s child seems to take a firm backseat to her new squeeze.
Regarding Vronsky, I would hazard a guess that Aaron Johnson was woefully miscast. He has next to no chemistry with Knightley, and as a result I found it very hard to care about their struggles. Part of this problem is with the way the film handles their romance itself, but I’ll get to that. In fact, I can’t help but think that Jude Law was also miscast, as he makes Karenin far too reasonable and likable for the film’s own good.
On the sides, we have quite a few characters flitting about. I adore Ruth Wilson for her role in Luther (which you should all watch on Netflix) but her bleached blonde eyebrows and weird, simpering little voice as Princess Tsverskoy were nothing short of hideous. Mr. Darcy himself (Matthew McFayden) flirts with the line between amusing and annoying as Anna’s Brother, Oblonsky, while Kelley MacDonald gets some great late-game jabs in at Anna to make up for her disappointing lack of screen time.
Finally, we have a second romance going on in the background between Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kitty (Alicia Vikander), which oddly enough ends up being much more tender and well-communicated than Anna and Vronsky’s. The scene where they reconnect through block communication was one of my favorite exchanges of the entire film. Also, for those of you who are wondering, Yes, Dmhnall Gleeson is the son of the Amazing Brendan Gleeson.
Regardless of what it might seem like from some of my reviews (i.e. Les Miserables) I am not a complete and total cynic when it comes to romance on the silver screen. I absolutely love it when a film effectively communicates a deep and profound connection between two people, but since mankind has been able to put pen to paper he has seemed to be obsessed with creating story after story about the fabled “Love at First Sight” phenomenon. This works out okay in written word, but when you take those stories and adapt them to film there is a huge amount lost in translation as far as why those two people fall in love. In the case of Les Miserables, we just see the two characters laying eyes on each other and instantly falling deeply in love, without understanding why or seeing what they see in each other during that first look. This is also the case with Anna and Vronsky; their only courtship is a physical one seen through an admittedly well-crafted dance scene. I much prefer romances on screen that feel deserved, such as in Silver Linings Playbook where it takes a long time for two people to find each other both physically and emotionally.
The Verdict: 5.0/10 Mediocre
+ Absolutely Gorgeous Costume Design
+/- Art direction is highly creative, but also distracting and often the opposite of subtle
- Anna is incredibly selfish and unlikable
- The movie’s pace is much to slow to fill it’s long run time.
Fast Films Reviews: 4.5/5
Cinematic Corner: 53/100
The Code is Zeek: 2.5/5
Janemcmaster: [Artistic but otherwise Average]