Anna Karenina (Movie, 2012)

This should have been a movie that I rated 5 out of 5 stars.  They should have had me at hello.  It is my favorite type of movie.  (A genre I like to call “costume drama” – a period piece with actors with British accents usually based on a classic piece of literature I fondly remember studying in my youth.) I have probably watched both Atonement and Pride and Prejudice by the same director (Joe Wright) a million times – both are two of my favorite films ever.  But alas, they had to go and ruin it!!!

And now I am seeing that I guess I am the gauche one, because the film award mafia nominated Anna Karenina a bunch of times for just exactly what I found intolerable about the whole thing – the set design and production (courtesy of Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer).  From the first moments of the film, you don’t know what is happening – is it a play? Are they watching a play? Who is that shaving that man? Is he going to slit his throat with that blade?

Way too theatrical. If I wanted to see a Broadway show I would have done so.  Yes, I am pissed about it.

I can only surmise that it is out of sheer arrogance that Wright felt like he had to mess with perfection.  When you are given a piece of writing to work with such as Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, you need to do very little in order for it to turn out to be a great piece of film-making.  The drama itself is what makes it great.  Get a couple of believable actors, nice costumes and poof! – a best picture nomination awaits…

But the whole production was incredibly distracting and in my opinion terribly annoying.  Remember how irritating that typewriter noise in Atonement got?? Magnify that on steroids and you might get close to this..

Now, (my rant is over), that being said, there were some bits that I did like.  I thought that Knightly was quite believable as Anna and Jude Law’s performance was also quite good.  I loved Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). Unfortunately, I didn’t think that Vronsky was so great (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).  While he is quite “dashing” and handsome, I thought he was too cold.

My favorite scene was in the beginning when Anna is on the train headed to see her brother’s family and she is chit-chatting with Vronsky’s mother.  She is dreaming about her son and longing for him.  You can believe that she is a virtuous woman, in the prime of her beauty and life.  The staging and set production is good in that scene.  Even the bit that comes next where the train worker is killed and Vronsky gives money for his family.  Why couldn’t they let the whole movie be staged like that?  i.e. Normally??

Ok, ok, rant over.  Promise!

The costumes were heavenly.  I may be over doing it, but I think that Jacqueline Durran may have been doing a Chiarra-scurro thingy with Anna’s dresses.  It seemed Anna’s were always in a deep and/or dark tone and the other “virtuous” women in pastels.  Except when she was alone with Vronsky.  She was nominated for and won several awards for her work…

Through the distraction of the set production, the screenplay was entirely lost.  I can’t remember a single bit of the dialogue that stood out as important.  I’m sure it was lovely, but I was too busy wondering why Domhnall Gleeson (Levin) is walking around where the stagehands hang out at the top of a theater…am I too old school?

As a last note, I would like to make a comparison.  Here in NYC at the Metropolitan Opera, they have this production running of La Traviata.  The production is by Willy Decker.  The link can be found here: La TraviataLa Traviata is one of my favorite operas.  It is a classic.  Gorgeous music by Verdi.  Compelling story, etc. etc.  For years the MET had a beautiful production by Franco Zeffirelli (remember his classic film version of Romeo and Juliet?)  It had opulent staging with amazing costumes.  You felt transported back in time.  The new version not so much.  There is one set that consists of a modern red couch.  That’s it.  Get my drift?  I know that this is not the same thing.  But the point remains that there is no need to screw with perfection….

I wouldn’t recommended the film.  It is long, tiresome.  Probably around 2.5 stars.  Go re-watch Pride and Prejudice instead….