Anna Karenina | Movie review
Joe Wright is once again the wrong choice to direct a literary adaptation.
Jane Austen, Ian McEwan and now Leo Tolstoy: Are any prestigious European authors safe from the showboating adaptation style of Joe Wright? Last year’s eccentric super-soldier thriller Hanna seemed more his speed. Shot almost entirely in a rundown London theater, Anna Karenina incorporates blatantly phony stage trappings—painted backdrops, live set changes—into an otherwise immersive retelling of Tolstoy’s classic tale. Is this Brechtian approach meant to reflect the artificiality of Imperial Russia, with its hypocritical values and veneers of politeness? Or is it just another instance of Wright distracting himself from his Masterpiece Theater material? Either way, the conceptual gimmickry eclipses everything else, including a typically sharp script from Tom Stoppard and the earnest efforts of well-dressed Brits playing well-dressed Russians.
As the high-society wife who betrays her humorless hubby (Jude Law, appropriately chilly) for the affections of a cocksure captain (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Keira Knightley retreats from the live-wire intensity she brought to David Cronenberg’s anti–costume drama A Dangerous Method. The central affair generates no heat—a problem, given how entirely the drama is predicated on believing Anna would give up everything for this whirlwind romance. Perhaps sensing a void at the center of his movie, Wright slips into overdrive, turning such mundane tasks as stamping documents and shaving into rhythmic, near-musical interludes. As with Pride & Prejudice, it’s hard to shake the feeling that his stylistic excesses might be better applied elsewhere. Someone revoke the man’s library card and point him in the direction of the nearest comic-book shop.