Sunday, December 2, 2012

New life for classic ‘Anna Karenina’

Review by James Colt Harrison

A more beautifully designed film this year has not been made to rival director Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina from Working Title/ Focus Features.

Positively lushly photographed by Seamus McGarvey, with production design by Sarah Greenwood, the film is almost a sensory overload of beautiful costumes (Jaqueline Durran), set design (Katie Spencer), and makeup and hairstyling (Ivana Primorac). Yes, these things are very important to the feeling of a film and to set the mood, so to say. If we are to be transported to the decadent imperial Russia of 1877 of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, then the visuals ust match all the overindulgence of the royal families the bejeweled ultra rich, and the mud-splattered peasants. It is only by visualizing such things that an audience can get realize, albeit superficially, what it was like to live in those pampered times of silver platters and silk gowns.

Keira Knightley plays the naïve-about-love Anna of the title. She lives a very sheltered live as the wife of a high official in the Russian government (Jude Law). They lead respectable lives that lean toward the stuffy and dull. Anna is a vibrant young woman who doesn’t appreciate her married life of predictability.  Anything of untoward behavior would cause a scandal, but Anna plunges head first into a clandestine romance with a handsome young military officer, Count Vronsky. He is played by the young looking AaronTaylor-Johnson, who is as beautiful as a porcelain figurine with his electric blue eyes, blond curls, and pearl white muscles. No wonder Anna loses all reason and causes great scandal and ruination of her life. It’s Miss Knightley’s best part in a long time.

Director Wright (Atonement) has set the story within the frame of an old theater proscenium with dissolves to actual settings. Characters freeze as in an old fashioned tableau (a form used in My Fair Lady to great success) on stage and within the rafters, returning to life as the scene proceeds. It’s a very effective way to emphasize what needs to be pointed out in detail. It’s a delightful process to be seen on screen, although it has been used on stage since the beginning of the theatre. It’s a very stylized dramatic device, with the emphasis on “style.” Wright has triumphed and made an unforgettable film.

This film may not adhere strictly to Tolstoy’s dignified style of story telling, but the film gives it new life and makes it accessible to young people of today who may not be familiar with Russian literature.

Especially notable in the cast is young blond Domnhall Gleeson, who plays an early pre-communism agrarian reformer, who leaves his privileged life as a rich boy to live and work with farmers. Knightley’s philandering brother is played by Matthew McFayden, who seems to get away with everything merely because he is a man in that male-oriented society of the late 1880s.

Anna Karenina is a beautifully made film, stylish and romantic, and one of the best adult films of the year. It will figure prominently during the Oscar® season.

* Both the American Society of Cinematographers and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have nominated Seamus McGarvey for an Oscar® for his work on Anna Karenina. McGarvey previously worked with director Joe Wright on Atonement.


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