Film Review: Anna Karenina

By Alexandra Ley

“Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The most famous line of the seminal classic Anna Karenina is not included verbatim in its film incarnation, but this brilliant and emotionally stimulating film captures the idea of how misery can spread in different ways. Filled with a dynamite cast and beautiful colors and images, the highly anticipated adaptation of Tolstoy’s famous novel does not disappoint.

Keira Knightley performs the role of Anna, the society woman who just wants it all, with heart, but without a punch. Her fall from society might have been more bitter if she and Jude Law, who plays her husband, had had more chemistry. The marriage might have intended to be lukewarm, but watching him boss her around was painful to watch, and not because it was causing the protagonist pain. The strongest lead performance by far was the womanizing and handsome Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Anna’s lover Count Vronsky. His passion for Anna enhanced every scene to the point that it became suspenseful to just see him enter the frame. The second couple of the drama, played by Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, make the audience root to find romance together across social borders. Vikander is charming as the social ingénue Kitty, who has beguiled the agriculturalist Levin almost to the point of insanity. The supporting performers were also strong, including Olivia Williams as Countess Vronksy, Matthew Macfadyen as Oblonsky, and even Michelle Dockery (which many Barnard students will recognize as Downton Abbey’s Mary Crawley) as the loyal Princess Myagkaya.

This complicated Russian novel translates to the big screen very well, thanks to Tom Stoppard’s screenplay. Every character and story is intricately woven into the story’s fabric, in part due to the ample use of theatrical aesthetic and setting. The upper society of Russia crowds in an ornate hall for a ball, then later populates seats of the same hall to watch a horse race. The effect is almost one of a Baz Luhrmann film, in which the characters tell a story through schizophrenic and impossible scenarios, such as when the roof of a beautiful building is removed to reveal a fireworks show, or a tense horse race depicted by a only few men riding horses in front of a painted stage backdrop. The cinematography of Anna Karenina not only ties in the history and setting of Tolstoy’s Russia, but actually helps blend a chaotic frenzy of action and scenes into a manageably-paced story.

The one constant thread evident in the cinematic experience is the heightened emotions of the characters – through a combination of Dario Marianelli’s soundtrack, camera shots composed with the same amount of care and detail as a Neoclassical painting, and wonderful characters work on the part of the actors, this film will grip you and refuse to let you go until the final moments. Though certainly overhyped, Anna Karenina is a charming film with a captivating story.

Alexandra Ley is a senior at Barnard and the Contributing Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Just Jared.

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