Monday, January 14, 2013
MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Anna Karenina
Joe Wright is back in full force with another feast for the senses through his latest film "Anna Karenina". Based on the highly acclaimed novel of the same name, this film tells the tragic story of an 19th-century Russian aristocrat whose social standing collapses after she engages in a love affair. If you're familiar with Joe Wright's work you'll immediately know that this sort of film is his specialty. As expected, he delivers a visually breathtaking experience combined with beautiful music.
Despite being a typically luscious period piece, this is quite a unique work as the film is largely set on a theatrical stage. It's all based on the concept that high-society live their lives in a self-absorbed way, as if they were putting on a performance. It's a risky move, but Wright pulls it off brilliantly through impeccable art direction, costumes and cinematography. The disparate settings are blended together seamlessly, aided by fluid camera movement that made me swoon. The result is something that feels almost musical in the vein of "Moulin Rouge" with performances that recalled "Dangerous Liaisons".
From the first scene, Wright grabs your attention as he gives you a feel for the theatrical style, with a curtain raising and a zoom in to center stage. This film has proven very divisive and if you don't quite get into it from the beginning, then the style is unlikely to work for you. The characters themselves seem conscious of this theatricality with their self-aware charismatic acting. The casting mostly works, with Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen and Alicia Vikander standing out most. Knightley is the glue that brings them all together, as her luminous performance is what drives the film. Unfortunately, Aaron Johnson doesn't quite match up to her as the love interest Count Vronsky. Likewise, I feel like Jude Law's more traditionally "cinematic" performance wasn't quite in sync with the rest of the ensemble.
Thankfully, they don't bring the film down as the stylish production values portray a thrilling grandeur that should surely keep your interest. This is a true "director's film", as his vision shines through loud and clear. That being said, I feel like he could have trusted his instincts more. The film begins with such a euphoric high that I couldn't help the feeling that it lost some steam towards the end. The sets felt increasingly more traditional, diminishing some of the theatricality and thereby losing some of the panache.
The diminishing returns can be also be attributed to the screenplay and the dynamic between Knightley and Johnson. I wouldn't exactly say that they lacked chemistry, but I didn't feel the overwhelming passion that would have inspired the events that followed. In terms of the screenplay's faults, I think it was mainly due to the film's time constraints. At the end, I longed for the length of a similarly Russian-set film like "Doctor Zhivago" to really take us on Anna Karenina's full journey. I've read that this film had budget constraints though, so I guess Joe Wright did the best he could. It's a shame, since I truly feel that Knightley dazzles and the whole design of the film (costumes, hairstyles, production design, music and cinematography) is spectacular. It's a lovely piece of art, but it didn't fill me with the same passion that I had for his previous work (mainly "Atonement" and "Pride & Prejudice").