REVIEW: Anna Karenina

25 11 2012

Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” is a cinematic version of Tolstoy’s treasure meant for people who love “Anna Karenina.”  In other words, if you haven’t read it or spent time with other film adaptations, this film will be as lost on you as it was on me.  It’s a stylized take on the classic that leaves those watching the film trying to decipher the plot in the dust.  (Recommendation: read a plot summary beforehand.)

Wright is trying to do a master class on “Anna Karenina” by doing something unconventional with the staging: that is, to literally set it on a stage.  The setting works well as a clever metaphor for Russian high society and breathes some new life into the dusty tale.  And kudos to Wright for trying to break out of his doldrums of conventionality that have led to a string of mediocre films that have fallen ever so short of success.

However, the extended metaphor is quickly revealed to be incredibly quixotic; that is, idealistic but not practical.  If you’ve ever seen a copy of Tolstoy’s book in print, you would certainly notice it’s a hefty volume that is sure to have quite a sprawling narrative.  The story of “Anna Karenina” takes us to all sorts of locales, many of which simply don’t work inside of a theatre or stage setting.

So rather than try to make it work, Wright hits us over the head with it in the first act … and then essentially discards it when no longer expedient.  With a little more thought, it could have yielded all sorts of revelations about the story.  But as it appears on screen in his final version, the metaphor is unfulfilled.

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