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Anna Karenina

March 31, 2013

Anna Karenina (2012)
Director: Joe Wright
Actors: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

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Synopsis: Aristocratic St Petersburg wife and mother, Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley), embarks on a destructive affair with dashing cavalry officer, Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Review: If you’re going to film a classic piece of fiction – adapted for the cinema and television umpteen times already – then you might as well try to do something different with it, and, for that reason alone, one has to applaud Joe Wright’s daring, postmodern interpretation of ‘Anna Karenina’. At times it isn’t precisely clear what Wright is actually trying to achieve by his knowingly Brechtian vision, though it’s presumably some sort of play on Shakespeare’s classic adage from ‘As You Like It’, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players”, as Anna Karenina’s romantic temperament falls victim to the conventions and conservatism of late-nineteenth century Russian aristocratic society.

Of course, Joe Wright has past with these sort of elaborately formal and stage-managed cinematic pieces. One remembers how he cleverly re-imagined Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice‘, and of course his Atonement was full of sweeping technical flourishes (the Dunkirk tracking shot and London Underground bombing scene being classic cases in point). On most levels, the postmodern thesis of Anna Karenina works because much like with Todd Haynes’ gorgeous homage to fifties melodrama, Far from Heaven, the artificiality and opulent concentration on the aesthetics of the piece, almost wills the audience to home in on the emotional sentiment of the story, rather than spend time – as most contemporary period movies do – in building up the “fourth wall” through naturalistic/realist devices.

Helping the film’s romantic tow are the uniformly strong set of performances from the cast. It’s arguably Keira Knightley’s most complete performance to date – totally convincing as a woman with a wilfully self-destructive bent – and Jude Law is becoming an ever more interesting and effective actor as he gets older. Even Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s slightly stilted, callow performance as the dashing Count Vronsky works as he need be no more than a cipher of handsome youthfulness on whom Karenina can project her romantic yearnings. (March 2013)

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