Review of 'Anna Karenina'

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Keira Knightley plays the title role in this British drama film adapted from Leo Tolstoy's 1877 novel of the same name. Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, aristocrat Anna Karenina (Knightley) is trapped in a loveless marriage when she decides to enter into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. Directed by Joe Wright, the film also stars Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Kelly MacDonald & Matthew Macfadyen.
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Movie Review: 'Anna Karenina' -- Keira Knightley and filmmaker Joe Wright team again for another piece of celebrated European literature focusing on forbidden love among the aristocracy, although here we have English actors playing Russians from the Tolstoy novel. Wright has fashioned a gorgeous looking film but there is unfortunately nary a soul to be found in it.

Knightley plays the title character, caught in a loveless marriage to politician Alexei Karenin (Jude Law). She becomes smitten with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) while visiting her brother. He 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 unbelievably long 2 hour and 10 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, 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. What’s the point? 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.

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 rapturously in love, they do very little to make you feel it. They have one excellent scene but the credit for that goes to Wright. As I said the film, with its elegant costumes, dances, and scenery looks great and during one scene during a Ball Wright stages a dance sequence so thrillingly romantic that you half expect sparks to fly out of the crotches of both Knightley and Johnson. But the rest of the film just falls lifelessly to the point where you know Anna’s story is either going to end in suicide, madness, or both and you really just want her to hurry up and get to it already.