At the screening for Anna Karenina, there was a large pamphlet on the chair covered in quotes praising the film up and down. Some stated lead actress Keira Knightly getting Oscar nominated for her performance, the art direction, a directing nom for Joe Wright, etc. Well, don’t believe the hype.
Anna Karenina is a love story. Love stories have been played out over and over since the beginning of art. This isn’t even a very original love story at that. Anna Karenina falls for Vronsky, played by Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass), while still married to her husband Karenin, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Cold Mountain). This love triangle pulls at the three of them, tensions rise, and slowly drives Anna Karenina into madness.
There are a few subplots to this film that did nothing more for me than drag down the pace of the film. Throughout the movie, I found myself fading in and out of interest. Every side story seemed to be lingered on 10 minutes too long. This was also a detriment to the main story as I felt there was never enough development for me to remain emotionally attached to Anna and her plight.
The biggest save this film has is the art direction and direction by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Atonement). Essentially, the film is setup as if being performed on a stage. Backdrops are meant to appear as hand-painted set extensions. There are only a handful of moments where we see establishing shots of the outside world. Curtains are pulled up, doors are opened to move us on to the next scene. Joe Wright is known for his single-take shots, and this film shows them off with a nice touch of movie magic. Seamless cuts and sudden set changes within the frame were always a welcomed visual treat. This unique, creative decision to do the film this way is really what saved it from being unbearable.
The film seemed to want to reach for an epic scope and heavy dramatic weight, but fell short of that. Anna Karenina is the type of film that could be studied for its unique execution, but narratively it leaves a lot to be desired. Anna Karenina does have some beautiful moments placed throughout the film that do live up to the expectation I believe the director had for the film as a whole. A dancing scene that is fairly early on in the movie, stands out in my memory.
I believe that the art direction definitely deserves lots of attention. The attention to detail and the effort, both creative and physical, it would take to pull off a film like this is insurmountable. But will general audiences really have enough appreciation for the art direction to enjoy this film? I don’t believe so. That being said, the audience I saw the film with was fairly receptive. Later on during the film, I felt the audience begin to lose interest. There were theater-wide laughs at moments that weren’t meant to be funny; even moments that were considerably dramatic. There was a certain kind of anxiousness from the audience. They wanted the movie to move along.
The third act of the film does pick itself up in an almost redeeming way. The story lines come to their logical end which isn’t wholly satisfying, but also not necessarily disappointing. That is the sort of grey area the entire film sits in. As a whole, the film is pretty forgettable, but not a regrettable experience. I wouldn’t recommend this film to the average movie goer, but there are worse options out there.