Friday, December 7, 2012
All the world may be a stage, but filmmaker Joe Wright takes this notion a bit too literally in his luscious, epic misfire of a movie, Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy's classic novel about an illicit love affair and its consequences in glittering Imperial Russian society has been filmed innumerable times, but Wright and scriptwriter Tom Stoppard have a truly audacious and imaginative idea for putting the old warhorse through its paces one more time: staging almost the entire drama within the confines of an enormous theater set.
The reasoning behind this seems clever enough. It recalls medieval Morality Plays, where traveling troupes would enact edifying moral stories from their wagon stages. For another, it highlights the idea that St. Petersburg high society is itself a kind of grand, public stage, its players on display before an audience of unforgiving viewers ready to pounce on anyone who doesn't act his or her assigned role to perfection.
But the constant artifice of everything—movement, stage settings, the weird, fussy little hand gestures they all use in the waltz—only serves to leech the essential emotion, out of the story. It's all about the presentation of the material, not the material itself, so the drama feels as counterfeit, unreal, as everything else. The figures trapped in Wright's grand design are like cardboard cut-outs in a Victorian toy theatre; they might as well be run in and out of the action on sticks.
This is certainly true of Keira Knightley in the title role. Anna is a woman of immense social standing married to successful government bureaucrat, Karenin (Jude Law), who chooses to risk—and lose—everything for a carnal affair with the proverbial dashing young cavalry officer, Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). But Knightley feels too young, shallow, and modern in the role; her entire arsenal of pouts and nervous grins never suggest the depth of feeling Anna must experience. (Read more)