18 April 2014 | l_rawjalaurence
Elegant and Boring Misfire
The ingredients for this fourth adaptation of Tolstoy's classic look promising on paper: Joe Wright and Keira Knightley reunite after their success with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005), with a screenplay written by Tom Stoppard. The conception behind the film is a suggestive one: the entire action is located in a giant theater, with the protagonists conceived as performers putting on roles for the audience's benefit. This should have provided a framework for an analysis of Anna's (Knightley's) motivations, as she abandons her husband (Jude Law) in favor of her lover (Aaron Taylor-Johnston), even though by doing so she condemns herself to a lifetime of social ostracism. It's perhaps more important for her to follow her inclinations rather than conform to pre-determined social roles. Unfortunately the finished product turns out a disappointment: director Wright seems to have little idea how to develop the screenplay, other than to indulge in a series of consciously 'artificial' shots - for example, zooming into the characters' faces, or using a deliberately jagged narrative style - that render the action difficult to follow. In the central role Knightley seems miscast; she lacks both poise and grace - essential to portraying a Russian aristocrat - and she tends to gabble her lines. Taylor-Johnston's Vronsky is easily the worst I have seen in any of the four versions of the tale - surpassing Kieron Moore in Korda's woebegone 1948 adaptation. Not only does he lack any sense of nobility, but he does not seem to know what to do with the part: we are left wondering precisely why Anna should have wanted to fall in love with him. Jude Law's Karenin is perhaps the only reason for watching this film; a quiet, yet menacing personality who seldom loses his cool, yet remaining determined to control his wife (and hence maintain a facade of social respectability) at any costs. Trapped within this kind of marriage, we can understand precisely why Anna should want to take her own life. The film's group sequences are competently handled, although the choreography could have been improved. What this ANNA KARENINA shows is that even attaching the biggest names in theater to a project cannot guarantee its overall quality.