Anna Karenina

Directed By: Joe Wright

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew Macfayden, Emily Watson, Domhnall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander

"Romantic love will be the last delusion of the old order."
-Nikolai Levin (David Wilmot)

With the possible exception of Moonrise Kingdom, Anna Karenina has been the most heavily marketed indie flick this year.  Over the course of 2012, I have seen more advertisements for this tale of love than I care to remember.  Based on Leo Tolstoy's novel of the same name, it's supposed to be the romance of the year that will cap off the holiday season.  Having seen the film, I think otherwise.  Anna Karenina is an extravagant yet boring affair about an impure love.

It's 1874 in high-society Russia.  Senior statesman Alexei Karenin (Jude Law) and his wife Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) live in St. Petersburg with their son.  When Anna's brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfayden) cheats on his wife Dolly (Kelly Macdonald), Anna travels to Moscow to ask Dolly to forgive her brother for his sins.  Ironically, Anna meets Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in Moscow.  After a sensual encounter in a Moscow ballroom, Vronsky follows Anna back to St. Petersburg.  Soon after, an affair begins that becomes the talk of the town.  Meanwhile, the affluent Konstantin Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) pursues Dolly's younger sister Kitty, a girl whom Vronsky rejects for Anna.

Every sin has a price, and Anna Karenina tries to explore the price of adultery.  While Joe Wright turns the film into an extravagant affair with vibrant visuals, gorgeous cinematography, and a rich score, he forgets the basics.  Despite all his grandeur and overt symbolism, there's no substance to the film.  In trying to make this a grand experience, he forgets to do some grand storytelling.  Aesthetically, the film is incredible.  However, I can't say the same for the romance.  The sparks simply aren't flying because Wright isn't telling this classic story well.  Without the romance, nothing else matters.

As adulterers Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky, Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson have very little chemistry on screen.  While their ballroom dancing is quite sensual, that's about it in the romance department.  I have nothing against either one of these talented performers, but they just don't fit together well on the big screen.  There's no romantic spark between the two, and that ultimately means there's nothing to really captivate us aside from Joe Wright's stylistic indulgences.  However, I do have to note that the side romance between Domhnall Gleeson's Levin and Alicia Vikander's Kitty is quite charming.

Jude Law is an interesting addition to Anna Karenina.  He gives us a stalwart husband in Alexei Karenin.  His character has a certain view of marriage and what it means to be bound by God, and he clings to this view throughout the film.  While Law does give a decent performance, he could have been a much more interesting player in this flick.  As Anna's wronged husband, we should have seen a much darker, angrier version of this character from Law.  For a time, bitterness and resentment should have taken hold of him completely.  I do understand that Law is limited to some extent by the fact that the film is an adaptation of Tolstoy's classic novel, and it's a long one to capture in two hours.  With this in mind, he may not have had the opportunity to thoroughly explore the nuances of his character’s emotional suffering over Anna's sins.  Blame Joe Wright.

Ultimately, Anna Karenina is a rather bland affair.  Despite grand aesthetics, the film is fueled by a stale romance.  Wright drops the ball in not helping to build chemistry between Knightley and Taylor-Johnson.  Anna Karenina gets a 0.09% rating.  Have a few White Russians with this one.