Anna Karenina (2012)


Alone in a crowd,

Alone in a crowd,

(2012) Drama (Focus) Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, David Wilmot, Shirley Henderson, Holiday Grainger, Pip Torrens, Susanne Lothar, Alexandra Roach, Luke Newberry, Aruthan Galieva, Tannishtha Chatterjee. Directed by Joe Wright

Our Film Library

Everyone knows the old saw that love is blind. We mostly come to think that it means that looks and faults don’t matter when you’re in love, but I don’t think that’s really the case. What I think that the statement means is that we are blind to the consequences of falling in love, so emotionally inundated we are by love.

The Leo Tolstoy classic has been made into big screen extravaganzas several times, most notably with the legendary Greta Garbo in the title role (twice). Here we get Keira Knightley who has shown that she has plenty of talent although perhaps not quite a match to her luminous beauty which is considerable; the girl might just be the prettiest face in all the world.

A brief plot synopsis for those not familiar with the Tolstoy work; Anna is the wife of Karenin (Law), a well-respected Russian government official in Tsarist Russia but one can scarcely characterize the marriage as a happy one. Karenin is emotionally distant, occasionally affectionate but generally not present. Many women over the years have identified with Anna, alone in a marriage to a man who barely realizes she’s there at all.

When she takes the train to Moscow on behalf of her brother, Count Oblonsky (Macfadyen) who has cheated on his wife and who has sent him to plead with said wife Dolly (Macdonald) to take him back, she meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), a dashing young soldier who is the object of unrequited love for Kitty (Vikander) who is anxious to marry the young man. Kitty, in the meantime, is the object of affection for Levin (Gleeson) who is thinking of freeing his serfs and is being urged by Oblonsky to take one of them for his wife. However, everything is thrown in disarray by Anna who falls in love with Vronsky. Hard.

The two begin seeing each other and are none too discreet about their feelings. This is a big no-no in St. Petersburg society at the time which tolerated affairs but only as long as they were kept in the shadows where they belong. It was a kind of hypocrisy that in a large way still informs our somewhat hypocritical  views towards the sexes. Even if you’re not a Russian literature enthusiast or familiar with the novel, it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that this all leads to tragedy – and it does.

Wright has taken the conceit of staging the movie as if it were a play in a dilapidated theater (and in fact, they filmed in one just outside of London which was essentially the main filming location). There are backdrops that are very theatrical and occasionally we see audience members in box seats observing the drama. Players in the play sometimes step onto the front of the stage and address the audience directly. It’s certainly a bold move, the kind of thing someone like Baz Luhrmann might do.

But I have to admit it all feels kind of gimmicky and there’s no doubt that the stage-centric production design sometimes gets distracting. The costumes are lush enough (costume designer Jacqueline Durran won an Oscar for it) and the movie looks amazing, thanks in large part to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.

The acting though is kind of spotty, surprisingly. Law fares the best, making Karenin who often comes off as uncaring and downright mean in other filmed versions of the novel almost sympathetic here. Macfadyen, as the lusty Oblonsky, also performs well as a character that is a bit of a cad. Knightley, however, is oddly subdued here. There are almost no sparks between her and Taylor-Johnson which is critical – you have to be able to see why Anna would risk so much and get the depth of the emotion she feels for Vronsky. It is not helped by Taylor-Johnson who makes Vronsky something of a caricature. The miscasting for the role is obvious – and crucial.

The British film industry has always been reliable about producing costume epics as well as anyone, particularly those based on classics and Wright, with Sense and Sensibility and Atonement both to his credit, is as adept as anyone working now at the genre. However, the overwrought concept soon overwhelms the story and becomes more the focus than Tolstoy’s classic tale does. My recommendation is either read the novel or if you prefer seeing it onscreen is to find the 1935 version with Garbo which really is a classic. This is more of a noble failure.

WHY RENT THIS: Sumptuous production design and costumes. Decent performances by Law and Macfadyen.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overwrought. Conceit of giving the film the look of a theatrical performance becomes distracting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sexuality and violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot had to leave the film during pre-production due to painful sciatica which eventually required back surgery. He was replaced by Wright’s regular collaborator Seamus McGarvey.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a nifty time lapse photograph of the main set’s construction as well as interviews with the cast members.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.9M on a $51.6M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: In Secret

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Mr. Peabody and Sherman

New Releases for the Week of November 30, 2012


November 30, 2012

KILLING THEM SOFTLY

(Weinstein) Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini, Sam Rockwell, Richard Jenkins, Bella Heathcoate, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn.  Directed by Andrew Dominik

Three not-terribly-smart guys rob a mob-protected poker game. This, as you might imagine, doesn’t sit too well with the mob and they hire a hitman to track down the perpetrators and restore order to the local criminal underworld. However as it often happens with the very foolish, not everything goes according to plan.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Comedy

Rating: R (for violence, sexual references, pervasive language and some drug use)

Anna Karenina

(Focus) Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald. Based on the epic Leo Tolstoy novel, a woman lives a life that most women in that time and that place would envy. But as she questions her heart, she begins to question her marriage and as her world is engulfed in tumult, so too the world around her changes forever in spasms of awful violence.

See the trailer, featurettes, promos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some sexuality and violence)

The Collection

(LD Entertainment) Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald, Navi Rawat. When the daughter of a rich man is captured by a sadistic serial killer, he hires a group of mercenaries who in turn coerce the only man who escaped from the killer’s maze alive to return and lead them to the captured girl. This proves to be much easier said than done.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and brief nudity)

Dragon

(Radius) Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tang Wei, Jimmy Wang Yu. A shy, retiring craftsman in a turn of the century Chinese village is forced to defend a shopkeeper from two violent gamblers. The police detective investigating the incident believes the craftsman is much more than he lets on. However, his investigation begins to draw the attention of the criminal underworld to the craftsman and his village.

See the trailer and a link to streaming the full movie here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Martial Arts

Rating: R (for violence)

A Late Quartet

(EntertainmentOne) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Christopher Walken, Jeremy Northam. When a beloved member of a world-renowned string quartet gets a medical diagnosis which means his career must come to an end, the long-suppressed squabbles of ego, competitive bickering, unrequited passions and hurt feelings comes out and threatens to destroy what a quarter century of friendship, hard work and harmony has established.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language and some sexuality)

The Other Son

(Cohen Media Group) Emmanuelle Devos, Pascal Elbe, Jules Sitruk, Mehdi Dehbi. Two young men – one Israeli, one Palestinian – discover that they were accidentally switched at birth. The revelation has unforeseen repercussions on not only the lives of the men but on their families as well.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (For a scene of violence, brief language and drug use)

Silent Night

(Anchor Bay) Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King, Donal Logue, Lisa Marie. A sheriff and his deputy chase a maniac dressed as Santa Claus who is murdering those he judges to be naughty. That list includes everything from porn and adultery to green…to lesser offenses. Loosely based on the Christmas horror classic Silent Night, Deadly Night.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)

Talaash: The Answer Lies Within

(Reliance Big Pictures) Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherji, Kareena Kapoor, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. When a popular movie star dies when his car plunges into murky waters, a detective investigating the case is charged with discovering whether it was an accident or murder. The closer he gets to the truth however the closer he gets to his own past which he will be forced to confront if he is to find out what really happened.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR