Saturday, January 12, 2013

Anna Karenina Review

Joe Wright has impressed me in the past.  The tracking shot of the retreat to Dunkirk in Atonement still sticks with me to this day.  Hanna was one of my favorite films from 2011 and contains quite a few fantastic moments.  I was looking forward to Anna Karenina with mild reservation; for me, period dramas can be hit-and-miss and the fact that almost the entire film took place on a stage had me a bit puzzled.  Unfortunately my trepidations were proved right – Karenina gets so little right that I couldn’t wait for the lights to come up so I could get out of there.

I am not often out-and-out bored by a film.  Atlas Shrugged and Taking Woodstock are the two that jump to mind immediately.  Even such drivel as Twilight or Beastly entertains me at some level (whether by the action or the ability to mock the film whilst watching it).  Anna Karenina falls into the same category as Shrugged and Woodstock.  I was utterly and wholly bored for the entire film.  I just didn’t care about any of the characters and what they were doing.  It didn’t help that two of our main characters are deplorable human beings that we detest from the beginning. 

Much like the Twilight films, this is a product of the source material.  If the characters in the book were detestable and unlikable then I can’t really fault the screenwriters for staying true to the original.  Anna (Keira Knightley) falls in love with Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) and subsequently cheats on her husband, Karenin (Jude Law).  Anna’s acts and her disregard for her marriage made me detest her instantly; she had myriad opportunities to send Vronsky back to Moscow but gave into her feelings and asked him to stay.  She eventually tells Karenin about Vronsky and reveals that she’s pregnant with his child.  Karenin is incredibly weak-willed and basically let’s Anna walk all over him – which is fairly understandable considering that the film is set in late-19th century Imperialist Russia.  Image was everything then, especially for upper-class elites like the Karenins.

A 19th century period-piece isn’t really anything special (this year we also got the fantastic Lincoln); to differentiate himself from the pack, Wright chose to set almost the entire film on a stage.  At times, this gives the film a feel of a Broadway play – sets come into and out of frame as locations are changed mid-dialogue, as characters are conversing or walking from one point to another.  There is one truly fantastic use of this gimmick during a continuous shot that lasts for minutes – something Wright has mastered through his films.  The novelty quickly wears off as we’re left to interpret set changes and characters walking backstage or up in the rafters (I’m not well versed in the technical terminology of the Theater) as time passing or traveling from location to location.  While this is an interesting idea on paper, in practice it left me confused more than once.  There were moments in which the stage setting was visually intriguing (see: my earlier example and a horse race that was interestingly staged – pun intended), but it was more distracting from than adding to my overall experience.

There just really wasn’t much of anything that I enjoyed about Anna Karenina outside of the one spectacular long take.  The characters are utterly detestable or just downright unlikable; the only sympathetic character in the film, Karenin, is just so boring that I didn’t have much sympathy for his adultering wife.  Few films just out and out bore me like Anna, and it’s really a shame.  I wanted to like this movie so badly.

Anna Karenina tries some interesting things but is ultimately a snooze-fest of a drama.

The Bearded Bullet.

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