Keira Knightley and filmmaker Joe Wright (“Atonement”) team up again to cover a celebrated work of European literature, this time focusing on forbidden love among the Russian aristocracy described by Tolstoy. The latter has directed a gorgeous-looking, if overindulgent, film, although nary a soul is to be found in it.
Knightley, as the title character, wallows in her loveless marriage to politician Alexei Karenin (Jude Law). She falls in love with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) while visiting her brother. The former continues to pursue her until she finally gives in to the affair, although its repercussions doom her to a life of being known as a whore. And for reasons that I don’t quite understand, there is another romance between a farmer (Domhall Gleeson) and a Russian princess (Alicia Vikander) that takes up even more of the two hour and ten minute-runtime.
Without question one of the biggest problems here is the film’s artificiality. Wright has chosen to actually stage everything in a theatrical setting, literally having background characters change the scenery, setting various scenes on a stage while others far removed from any theatricality, and also having Anna walk on the landings backstage among crew and actors who are oddly statuesque. It’s distracting. I asked the same question about why one would want to do another adaptation of this story in the first place? You can turn on the news and be inundated with constant adultery stories, some which will blow any fiction yarn out of the water.
Of course if you find yourself watching a romance and all you can think is “what’s the point?” something has gone wrong. If Knightley and Johnson are supposed to be fantastically in love, they do little to convey it. They have one excellent scene but the credit for that goes to Wright.
This film, with its sumptuous costume design, choreographed steps and scenery is compelling enough–in fact, during one grand ball scene Wright stages a dance sequence so successfully that you half-expect sparks to fly off the screen. But the rest of the film just limbers along lifelessly. Everyone knows how the story ends, but you just really want her to hurry up and get to it already.
DID YOU KNOW?
Director of photography Philippe Rousselot had to leave in pre-production to have back surgery, as excruciating pain from sciatica made it impossible for him to continue working on the film. He was replaced by Seamus McGarvey, director Joe Wright’s regular collaborator (courtesy of IMDB.COM)
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