Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is an iconic, archival author; his books, required reading in higher education; “War and Peace”(1860’s) a massive epic, still resides comfortably in the annuals of finest historical novels ever composed; his genius unquestioned, forever lionized.
“Anna Karenina” (1875) written at a time when women where chattel; had no power or control over their destinies or the unexpected whims of their hearts; shackled in man-made conventions, rules, restrictions (as crippling as their corsets). “Anna” is woman felled by love and life: married at eighteen, unfamiliar with disruptive, all-consuming passion, marches precipitously towards her sealed fate. She is tragic, but in the twenty-first century, rather stale.
Director Joe Wright’s film version, takes place, a majority of the time, in a nineteenth century Russian theatre: highly stylized, contrived, intimate close-ups, balletic waltzes; the ornate proscenium arch, if intended to eliminate audience’s emotional bonding with the characters, is tremendously successful. Same story, same conclusion, just a unique formula, fraught with a plethora of “train” metaphors, speeding towards predictable, gloomy finality.
Keira Knightly’s waiflike beauty and willowy frame imbue the physical qualifications of “Anna” but lack the gravitas and pathos of Greta Garbo or Vivian Leigh’s interpretations; possibly the intention of the director or too archaic for 2012.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose countenance illicit envy from the gods, is “Count Vronsky”: vanilla, barely –dimensional, military -Lothario, who scores more victories off the field, than on; in the nineteenth- century, seduction is an art form: Vronsky vanquishes all rivals and leaves scores of shunned, lachrymose victims.
Jude Law surprisingly garnishes sympathy as the dignified, cuckolded “Alexi Karenin”, Anna’s dedicated husband; he painfully keeps “turning the other cheek” as she blatantly, stingily, continuously strikes. Law breaks the “play within a play” scenario, carving an empathetic niche with the viewer.
Minor rolls depicted by Matthew Macfayden (as Anna’s philandering brother “Prince Oblonsky”) and Alicia Vikander: jilted, fragile “Kitty”, sprinkle a dash of spice but not enough enough to salvage the film from flirting alarmingly with “familiarity breeds contempt” issues, and ultimately lugubrious, indolent, hypnotic boredom.