Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Unthinkable Has Happened: I Was Wrong About Something

Keira Knightly and Aaron Taylor-Johnson fall in love against a surreal backdrop in Anna Karenina (2011)
Last year in July I wrote about my expectations for the soon to be released Anna Karenina (2011) directed by the renowned Joe Wright who's obsession with Keira Knightley knows no bounds. I said that as a Russian, who was made to read Anna Karenina as if it was gospel, I couldn't bare the thought of a theatrical shit show with her and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the two principal leads.
Well I'm watching it today, and I have to say with utmost disgrace to myself and my intuition, that I was wrong, which I never am people. 
I was literally taken aback at how good this movie looked and felt.
But this was such an interesting take on the famous story and the writing was actually up to par with a 1 1/2 hour adaptation of a 600 page novel by Tolstoy, that's saying the obvious considering the adaptation was written by Tom Stoppard. Yes it was sappy, and missed a lot of the books subtext and essential themes, but it got the jist as best as it could, and for something so highly unadaptable as that book, that's a job well done. I think perhaps maybe I understood the script better (which had it's absurd moments) because I can recite the book verbatim. 
Alicia Vikander as Princess Katerina 'Kitty' Alexandrovna
What I was impressed most about was the supporting players. I loved Matthew McFayden as Stiva, and Alicia Vikander (keep an eye on her, she's going to be the next it-girl, mark my words) as Kitty, and of course Jude Law as the torn and embarrassed Karenin, he's absolutely brilliant and I have no idea who's genius idea it was to cast him because I think he understands the material better than anyone else. In most other adaptations Karenin is seen as the villain; the heartless brute who can't forgive and cares only about his own honor and his promises to god, but Law plays him so layered and enigmatic that you get a real sense he understands that Tolstoy wrote every character in Anna Karenina to be tortured and trapped by their own inabilities to compromise. 
My favorite adaptation remains the Vivien Leigh/Ralph Richardson one from 1948. There's a woman that could play Anna Karenina. Criterion bought it and it's on Hulu.
I'm really starting to sound like a substitute teacher at Russian Lit 101, so I'll finish by commenting on the aesthetic. I heard that the film was done in a strangely theatrical way because they literally didn't have the money to make it a full fledged film shot on location and with meticulous attention to detail to recreate Imperial Russia. And instead of half-assing it, Joe Wright decided to take a different route, making it more of a ballet (another Russian staple) and mostly symbolic, like a fairy tale, which is essentially what Anna Karenina is; an adult fairy tale. It's supposed to be dramatic, whimsical, magical and somewhere beyond this practical world, and I think the aesthetic used captures that. All I will say that I was right about was that yeah, Keira Knightly and Aaron Taylor Johnson do not do justice to the two main characters, too young to have a grasp of the gravity of the roles their playing, and it just sucks plain and simple.

Trailer below. 

Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina (1948) 

No comments: