Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Movie Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky and Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley), the wife of a Russan imperial minister (Jude Law), creates a high-society scandal when she begins an affair with Count Alexei Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a dashing cavalry officer in 19th century St. Petersburg. Anna's husband offers her a difficult choice: Go into exile with Vronksy but never see her young son again, or remain with her family and abide by the rules of discretion. Meanwhile, a farmer named Konstantin Levin pines for Princess Kitty, who only has eyes for Vronsky (summary not mine). 

     As with Tom Hooper's Les Misérables, I went into this movie without knowing what to expect. Namely, the fact that nearly all of the scenes are performed on theatrical set pieces. Like clockwork, the sets are swapped and modified to represent travel or a change in mood, yet the actors never leave the huge, intricate webwork of beautifully designed sets. In fact, in several cases, they walk through the rafters of a theater to illustrate a walk through crowded, dirty streets or a train platform. Anna Karenina kept my attention largely for this reason; it was uniquely designed and simply fascinating to watch. 

     The costumes were equally gorgeous (in fact, costume designer Jacqueline Durran was nominated for an Oscar for her work). I don't know much about the clothing of imperial Russia, but there were some fur hats and beautiful gowns that certainly had the aesthetic caliber of Oscar-winning designs. 

Why, yes, that is the Russian president. See what I did there?
   Knightley's and Taylor-Johnson's acting did not wow me, honestly. They were fine. The standout performer (for me) was Jude Law, who portrayed Anna's humiliated husband with just the right amount of self-control and tragic heartbreak. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie involves Karenin sitting in an armchair at the edge of the stage, his face half-lit by gas lamps lining the stage, and he asks Anna quietly, "Tell me what I did to deserve this." We don't get an answer from Anna, but we also don't need one. We know it already: he didn't do anything at all, and that's what makes his heartbreak so poignant to watch. Karenin loves his wife, and he offers her multiple chances to redeem herself and come back to him. He even comforts Count Vronsky after Anna asks both men to reconcile. Both Karenin and Vronsky know what happened was wrong, yet Karenin is the one extending forgiveness to both Vronksy and Anna. Karenin even cares for Anna's illegitimate daughter and protects her as his own after Anna and Vronsky run away together. Yet he will not give Anna the divorce she needs to marry Vronsky, and so the count turns his sights on a young princess recommended to him by his meddling mother. Anna is disconsolate when she finds out, and her catastrophic tale is brought to a disturbing end on the tracks of the train. 

      Meanwhile, Anna's brother's friend Konstantin pines for Princess Kitty, who believes Vronsky loves her. After he abandons Kitty for Anna, she realizes that Konstantin (who actually loves her) might not be so bad after all. Their love story is truly sweet, particularly the scene in which she agrees to marry him at last, and I enjoyed their scenes more than Anna's and Vronsky's. They (Anna and Vronsky) were entirely caught up in their own good feelings and lust, with no regard whatsoever for morality or society's demands. In fact, one of Anna's friends puts it this way: "It would be different if she broke the law. But she broke the rules." (See? There are some rules that are just understood, whether you're a Christian or not. Hmm ...) 

Yeah, that was my expression when I saw your mustache, too. 
      Anna Karenina only got two stars out of five on Netflix, but I'm going to give it four, because I loved the cinematography, costumes, set design, Konstantin's and Kitty's love story, and Jude Law's acting. I'm keeping the other star because Aaron Taylor-Johnson's mustache annoyed me, Anna and Vronksy had no real reason to love each other, and for the many times Anna refuses her husband's forgiveness. And the fact that Aaron Taylor-Johnson also played Quicksilver in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I kept expecting his Russian accent and never got it. But mostly for the mustache. I mean, look at it. Yeesh. 
     Final scoring for Anna Karenina: 4 /5. Beautiful movie. Moderately acted. I keep a star. 

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