Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina has always attracted filmmakers. The romantic tragedy has been adapted unto the screen a great number of times – but that didn’t stop director Joe Wright from giving the literary work another rendition, and here he casts Keira Knightley as his female lead for the third time (they also made Pride & Prejudice and Atonement together). In their latest collaboration, Wright and Knightley tackle the novelist’s realist fiction with daring vision.

The Players:

The Plot:

Anna Karenina (Knightley) is married to Alexei Karenin (Law), a high-ranking statesman who is also the father of her son. One day, Anna meets a dashing cavalry officer named Alexei Vronsky (Johnson) and falls deeply in love with him. The two begin a lustful, life-changing affair that scandalizes Russia’s high-society.

The Good:

  • Keira Knightley: Anna Karenina is hardly lovable. You just want to shake her and yell, “Snap out of it you fool!” But the way she self-destructs is so human and beautiful. Knightley’s Anna is fragile and passionate. She’s possessed by lust, and later, insanity. At first, it’s hard to sympathize for her, but by the end, Knightley manages to make her worthy of sympathy.
  • Other Performances: Law is not a dapper fellow in Wright’s universe. His character is cold, frigid, shut-off and old. And Law plays him as such. It’s amazing how the actor is able to push away his handsome looks and give us real character. Johnson, who does play the handsome guy, also gives a great performance and doesn’t get overshadowed by Knightley.
  • Chilling, Magnetic Chemistry: The basis of any onscreen romance is chemistry, without it, the movie is doomed (here’s looking at you Twilight). The chemistry between Knightley and Johnson is there, from the very first time they lock eyes. Each scene after that is just building with tension that eventually pays off when they give into their lust. It’s quite extraordinary what good chemistry can do for a film.
  • Costumes: Jacqueline Durran’s costume design is absolutely magnificent. She’s an artist. Period.

The So-So:

  • Joe Wright’s Bold Interpretation: Wright sets his film in a 19th-century theater. He stages most of it as a filmed play, with a chorus, lavish backdrops, and even a catwalk. By setting his film in a theater, Wright might be suggesting that his characters are trapped playing roles they are not actually suitable for. His stylized vision offers a lot of different interpretations. Wright didn’t settle for a regular, naturalistic narrative, he went above and beyond and he should be praised for re-inventing Tolstoy’s work. (It also helps that his screenwriter was playwright Tom Stoppard.) The theater-setting won’t work for everyone, at times it does feel cluttered and confusing, but that’s just part of the fun.

Overall:

Wright’s Anna Karenina is worth watching, mainly for its fresh approach and outstanding performances. The director knows how to get a great performance out of Knightley. The two have been collaborating for some time now, and their working relationship just seems to evolve. They bring out the best in each other, and this film bears witness to that.

The Rating: 8/10

Anna Karenina opens in limited theaters November 16th, followed by a wider release on November 30th.

Photo Gallery:

Trailer:

Will you be seeing Anna Karenina this weekend?