Anna Karenina Review: Highly Stylized Soap

MV5BMTU0NDgxNDg0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjE4MzkwOA@@._V1._SY317_CR0,0,214,317_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.

The Plot: 

Dat 'Stache

Dat ‘Stache

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

The Players:

Pardon me, is there something in my hair?

Pardon me, is there something in my hair?

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.

Really, you chose that guy from Kickass over THIS?

Really, you chose that guy from Kickass over THIS?

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.

And this, kids, is why you stay away from fireworks

And this, kids, is why you stay away from fireworks

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.

Bill Weasley's growin up

Bill Weasley’s growin up

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.

The Romance:

I'll try to forget this when Kickass 2 comes along...

I’ll try to forget this when Kickass 2 comes along…

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.

Other Reviews:

Fast Films Reviews: 4.5/5

CinemaWolf: A-

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: B+

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 6/10

Cinematic Corner: 53/100

The Code is Zeek: 2.5/5

Marshall and the Movies: 2/4

Janemcmaster: [Artistic but otherwise Average]

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About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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15 Responses to Anna Karenina Review: Highly Stylized Soap

  1. Yeah, I think that this film had some things it could have done better, but the style of it all kept me… relatively interested. Not generally my type of movie either though.

  2. filmhipster says:

    I love your little comments for the images. Cracks me up. :p

    Sounds like an interesting film, might be forced to watch this with the wife someday.

    • r361n4 says:

      It’s definitely one that’s dividing people (as you can see form the links posted below to other reviews, some people absolutely loved it) but for me it just lacked a human connection that I really look for in films like this

  3. Mark Hobin says:

    Definitely not style over substance unless you think Leo Tolstoy’s writing is trite. This dramatizes everything in the book from society’s reaction to Anna’s infidelity in relation to her brother’s infidelity to the true love romance of Levin and Kitty. There’s a lot to take visually as well, but that’s where director Joe Wright puts his stamp on this oft-dramatized tale. An incredible story that is among the most stunning productions of the year. Nice review (even though you hated the beauty of this film..ha ha)

    • r361n4 says:

      As I said, I’ve never read the book so I can’t comment on the Triteness of Tolstoy, and I did appreciate the beauty of the film but I thought that the showmanship detracted from the emotional impact.

      In any case when I say style over substance I don’t mean that the substance isn’t there, but that the movie felt like it was more interested in staging elaborate metaphors than it was in exploring the actual characters and the reasons for their actions

  4. CMrok93 says:

    It started off perfectly, but then just starts to die down, almost to the point of where you don’t give a single shit what happens to anybody, anything, or just the movie in general. You sort of just want it to end and when it does, you realized that maybe some time of your life has been wasted. “Some”, being the key word. Good review Andy.

    • r361n4 says:

      Thanks Dan, I agree that it started out quit well. I do my best to respect directors who try to do something new and different but a lot of the choices Jow Wright made just really took me out of the scenes they surrounded

  5. sati says:

    I gave the movie 5/10 too, I felt Knightley and Johnson were miscast and too young for their roles, though Johnson did a good job. The film completely missed the spirit and the meaning of the novel and even as a separate work of art failed on so many levels.

    • r361n4 says:

      Glad to hear i’m less alone than I thought. Just curious, is there any way I can get my email updates from your blog to show the title of the post specifically? I was trying to find your review of this in my inbox but couldn’t seem to locate it

  6. Excellent review! I am a big fan of this novel, and all the reviews I’ve read led me to believe that the movie doesn’t come close to doing it justice. In the novel, yes, Anna is kind of selfish and impulsive and Kitty and Levin’s relationship is the richer and more tender one in many ways. But it’s much more complex and multi-layered. It sounds like, as Lady Sati said, the film was miscast and missed the novel’s meaning and spirit.

    BTW, I loved Atonement and Pride and Prejudice too. I really like what you said about you and your girlfriend seeking common ground on movies. :-) My husband and I have the same issue. That’s one reason I’m looking forward to Django Unchained so much. It’s one of those rare occasions when he and I are BOTH really excited about the same movie.

  7. Pingback: January Wrap-Up: 1 Down, 11 To Go | Rorschach Reviews

  8. Pingback: Rorschach’s Oscar Winners Predictions | Rorschach Reviews

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