I feel cheated. The previews for Anna Karenina did absolutely nothing to prepare me for the unique approach of this telling of the famous Leo Tolstoy story—and I suspect this was very much on purpose. Many people are probably familiar with the tale as there have been decades of books movies, plays and more. However, this was my first exposure to it.
The dark love story takes place in Tolstoy’s time (late 1800’s) in Russia involving a love affair between aristocratic Anna Karenina (played by Kiera Knightly) and dashing young cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson). Anna is married to Count Karenin (Jude Law) who’s 20 years her senior.
One scene presents a train and it’s nothing more than an obvious toy train with fake snow. We’re supposed to know it’s a toy train but then we zoom inside and it’s Anna and other characters taking up the dialogue. However, later we get a real train filmed outside in real snow. Why? I have no clue and I don’t care to find out.
Jude Law is solid though his character has little to do but act flaccidly scene after scene. The lover Vronsky is, in my view, entirely miscast. He’s extremely feminine and looks entirely incapable of appealing to Anna. Finally, there’s Anna and she’s handled fine by Knightly. Unfortunately I get a real sense that her career is just one more film or two away from being over if she doesn’t find a winning vehicle.
The film was written by a playwright which explains a lot. However, what we get feels as if the rest of the crew didn’t realize the “art” and starting filming it as a movie leaving the editors to stitch together whatever they had. The scenes that take place outside are often beautiful and perfectly atmospheric. The score is also noteworthy. The rest of it is just too smart for its own good.
I firmly believe now that, upon considering this remake, someone at the studio said, “Another Anna Karenina? It’d been done to death.” The answer was the new take on it—but it’s the wrong answer. If you’ve seen or read the story many times I suspect you’re tired of the same old approach. This might just come across as brilliant to such viewers. For those of us new to the material it’s entirely unapproachable and a colossal waste of time.