Think of this as one, big act of revenge courtesy of Sienna Miller.
The story centers around Anna (Keira Knightley) – a Russian wife and aristocrat who visits her brother in Moscow after his wife accuses him of adultery. While mediating between the two, Anna finds herself romantically drawn to the affluent bachelor Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) and the two begin a tumultuous and passionate affair that will challenge the rigid social structures they live under and bring Anna to the depths of despair and isolation.
I don’t think I’m in the minority at all when I say that I don’t enjoy watching period-pieces, especially one that’s done by Joe Wright. Yes, even though the guy has made some pretty impressive movies of the year and always has something flashy and beautiful to show-us, I still can’t help but feel like the guy should be spreading his wings more and going for action-thrillers like Hanna, rather than going back to the period-pieces that made him so famous in the first-place. However, maybe a period-piece by Joe Wright is all I really needed to have me less-hateful of them in the first-place. Then again, maybe not. It’s probably just that period-pieces are way too boring for my fast-paced, 19-year old soul.
Even though this may come off like a normal period-piece that’s no different from any other one that has came-out in the past-decade or so, Wright brings us something new, something fresh, and something that’s worth taking a second-look. See, what’s so unique about what Wright does with this material in the first-place is that he stages the film as if it was all a play. Characters, situations, and events may change, but the setting rarely ever does and rather than just filming all-over-the-globe and having places look like 19th century Russia, Wright keeps it condensed into one, theater-room that brings a new level of art to it, but will also confuse the hell out of you, as it did to me.
For the first 20 minutes or so, I kept wondering to myself why everybody was acting and dressed differently, but still in the same-spot as they were before. Of course, as time went-on, I started to realize that this obviously wasn’t the case and it was just a stylish way of Wright trying to get our minds off of the fact that this is yet, another period-piece, with soapy melodrama to spare, but hey, I gotta give the guy some kudos. If it wasn’t for Wright directing this flick with his sharp-eye for color and design, then I don’t think this film would have held my interest as well as it did. That, and also the fact that Wright keeps this story moving at a pretty quick-pace that doesn’t seem slow-down for anything in this movie, which I liked it because it was a fresh-approach to a period-piece that I feel like I needed to fully be entertained by.
Sadly, this quick-pace doesn’t stick and after about the first hour or so, the story starts to really take a toll on you with it’s snail-like pace that rarely goes anywhere with itself. Like most period-pieces and the stories that inhabit them, this story’s tale of love, lust, and passion during a frowned-upon fling doesn’t generate anything new or exciting that we haven’t ever seen before and even though it’s like that throughout the whole-movie, it didn’t really seem to bother me because of the distraction Wright had on my mind. However, once that distraction was lifted, I felt like I could see all of the problems with this story and how it seemed to linger-on as if it had somewhere to go with itself, but needed a good shove here and there to actually do it.
Thankfully, Wright does give the story that occasional shove every once and awhile, but it’s not enough and the latter-half of this flick just really started to bore me away, like I usually expect from period-pieces of this nature. The story isn’t anything new, but I was expecting a different-look at the theme of adultery and finding the real you through it, however, none of those sparks ever seem to be lit. Instead, we get a bunch of scenes where Knightley just runs around, cries, throws temper-tantrums, gets jealous really easily, and has a bunch of panic-attacks that could have almost had her back to the psych-ward that she was in last year with A Dangerous Method. Actually, come to think of it, that would have been a lot more entertaining to watch then just Knightley acting all bi-polar because she needs her bones to get jumped. Crazy Knightley for the sake of being crazy = good. Crazy Knightley for the sake of just banging a gong and getting it on = not good. That’s as much of a surprise as to me as it must be to you, I know but it’s the truth.
Even though her character was one that I started to care less-and-less about as the flick went-on, Keira Knightley is still great as Anna Karenina and shows us why she deserves roles like these. Knightley has always been this actress that I’ve liked and saw a lot of promise in, yet, she never really seems to break out of that crap-mold that she always finds herself in with flicks like The Jacket and Domino. However, it seems like whenever she has to put on some old-school, pieces of cloth for a role, she’s always on top of her game and nails it just about every time. I think she’s an actress that deserves more credit because of the way she can handle weird roles like Karenina, and make her the least-bit likable and surprising with where her motivations go and don’t go.
Playing the eye of her affection, is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who seems to really be crankin’ it up as of late with all of these strange-roles he’s been taking as of late. Kick-Ass was obviously the one flick that had us all notice him, but then he takes something as wacky and weird as his role in Savages, and now this! The guy definitely likes to expand himself and see what he can do and he does that very-well here as Count Vronsky. Vronsky was a pretty-interesting character right from the start because he’s very sly and very mysterious, but he never lets his guard-down long enough for somebody to capitalize on it. That is, only until Karenina does and then all of the interest I had with him was just lost as he and her both seem to go through a pretty obvious, pit-fall in their relationship and as much as I would have like to sympathize with both of them, I just didn’t.
The guy who I did actually sympathize with here, was in fact, Jude Law as Karenina’s much-older hubby, Alexei Karenin. What surprised me the most about Law and his performance here as Alexei was that he doesn’t play the type of “jealous husband who’s being cheated-on” role like we are so used to seeing in movies of this nature. Law actually down-plays himself very well and only allows his emotions and feelings to come through his facial expressions and actions, rather than words. Law is definitely the most interesting out of the bunch and really made me feel sorry for him because even though some of it his fault for being such a dull, and boring dude, I couldn’t help but feel like the guy wanted nothing else other than to be loved and not cheated-on like he is by Anna. I would have said look for Law to be nominated for an Oscar by the beginning of next year, but due to this film’s already, mediocre-performance, I think it’s pretty safe to say that we won’t have to look at all. Shame too, because I think Law’s been due an Oscar for quite some time now.
Consensus: Joe Wright definitely adds an extra-level of style and beauty to an otherwise, ordinary and empty period-piece, but Anna Karenina still fails to deliver on the emotional fire-works that it’s premise seemed to promise, as well as interesting characters that we actually care about and have sympathy for as they go-on, with all of this lust and adultery.