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Dan's Review: Anna Karenina

Tolstoy's classic gets a stage-like treatment.
Anna Karenina (Focus Features)

Rated R for some sexuality and violence.

Starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Michelle Dockery, Emily Watson, Holliday Grainger, Shirley Henderson, Bill Skarsgård.

Written by Tom Stoppard, based the novel by Leo Tolstoy.

Directed by Joe Wright.

GRADE: B+

REVIEW:


Tolstoy is not exactly an easy read, nor are his novels very adaptable for the big screen. I'm not entirely sure the 19th Century Russian author can ever be completely understood by Western audiences, but that doesn't mean producers shouldn't try. Anna Karenina is the latest attempt to bring Tolstoy's words to life.

Keira Kinghtley stars in the title role, the wife Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), a Russian aristocrat. The basic story centers around Anna's passionate extramarital affair with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johsnon) and her struggle to save her family once her sins are made public.

Part of the story also involves Anna's brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) and her efforts to convince Oblonky's wife Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) to forgive him (something she later seeks for herself). Another offshoot of the main plot is Oblonky's friend Levin (Domhnall Gleason) pursuit of love while trying to maintain a clear conscience and religious beliefs.

Anna Karenina is a lavish, stunning, visual endeavor presented in two different formats. One is your garden-variety costume/period epic, while the other is more like a straightforward theatrical adaptation. It's a stage-on-screen feeling, much like Moulin Rouge. The result is a feast for the eyes and a few standout performances (Knightley. Law) that is heavy on the art and light on plot.

Tolstoy's story is adapted well, although it would seem that lust is often mistaken for love in his tale. It would also seem that Tolstoy's underlying commentary on Russian societal norms, God and culture might be lost to the naked eye under all that beauty. It's also hard to be sympathetic with a woman who portray so little moral character, often showing more concern for her lover than her children and husband (even though he is kind of a jerk).

Director Joe Wright gets credit for creating a stunning scene, but it would seem that a little more story telling and little less art might make Anna Karenina more appealing to regular schmoes like me.


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