Anna Karenina is yet another film with plenty of potential but failed thanks to a lifeless script and oft stilted acting from what is normally a respectable cast. This is the epitome of style over substance as Wright attempts to give his portrayal a different flavor than those that have come before.
Genre(s): Drama, Romance
Universal | R – 130 min. – $34.98 | February 19, 2013
Directed by: Joe Wright
Writer(s): Leo Tolstoy (novel); Tom Stoppard (screenplay)
Cast: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kelly MacDonald, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson
Theatrical Release Date: November 16, 2012 (limited)
Features: Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 2
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: 40.4 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 2.5/5
Anna Karenina is the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s famous Russian novel, this version directed by Joe Wright who, for a third time, reunites with Keira Knightley starring as the title character. As admirable job Wright does with such a high profile novel, the mixing of musical with traditional filmmaking never quite makes a relationship, although it doesn’t help matters that there’s little to no emotional connection either.
The story is set in imperial Russia, 1867, where aristocrat Anna Karenina (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY) is in a loveless marriage with Alexis Karenin (JUDE LAW), a cold and controlling Russian statesman who, as with most men during the era, has expectations for his wife. Things change however as Anna makes a trip from St. Petersburg to Moscow to visit her brother, Prince Stepan “Stiva” Oblonsky (MATTHEW MACFADYEN) who, upon the film’s opening, was caught in an illicit affair by wife, Princess Daria “Dolly” (KELLY MACDONALD), and attempts to convince Dolly to forgive Stiva’s indiscretions.
On the train ride over, she meets Countess Vronskaya (OLIVIA WILLIAMS) who is traveling to meet son Count Alexi Vronsky (AARON TAYLOR-JOHNSON). Alexi is set to marry Anna’s sister-in-law Katerina “Kitty” Alexandrovna SHCHERBATSKY (ALICIA VLKANDER), though it’s more for social status in his eyes rather than true love. At the train station, Anna and Vronsky’s paths cross and it’s love, or perhaps lust, at first sight.
Meanwhile, enter rich land owner Konstatin Dimitrivich Levin (DOMHNALL GLEESON), who, unlike Vronsky, is in love with Kitty and is encouraged by Stiva to propose, but Kitty politely declines. Heartbroken, Levin returns back to his farm in Pokrovskoe, but not before visiting elder brother Nikolai (DAVID WILMOT) who is also an aristocrat but gave up his inheritance for the love of a prostitute with whom he has taken as a wife.
With the stage literally set and the players introduced, we get to the meat of the story as Anna and Vronsky dance around one another’s feelings until they give in to the licentious passion and the affair is set and soon enough the rumors fly through town. As was custom for the era, her honor is questioned while her husband, as distant and dispassionate as he might be, tries to protect her, and their son, with his family name. Soon things become more complicated as she becomes pregnant with Vronsky’s baby who sends things into a futher tailspin and even Alexis’ love has its limits. Yet still, she cannot stay away from Vronsky despite her social status being in danger.
One of the problems with Anna Karenina isn’t the directorial style, albeit it is at first jarring and tough to get one’s barrings, but instead with characters that are either not very likeable or downright dull. Casting was another problem. As much as I love Keira Knightley and will continue to watch anything she’s in, her delivery was at best stilted and the casting of Aaron Taylor-Johnson didn’t help matters as he had little to no chemistry with Knightley. Jude Law, meanwhile is decent in his role in one of the few sympathetic characters, though it’s all below the surface and at the end, I couldn’t feel his pain whatever it might have been.
The supporting cast for the most part is unremarkable save for Matthew Macfadyen as Stiva and Alicia Vikander as Kitty, otherwise they’re mostly forgettable roles and especially, forgettable performances.
Directed by Joe Wright, Anna Karenina is a disappointment not so much based on whether or not it failed to adequately translate Tolstoy’s novel but because of the talent involved. Keira Knightley is still a fine actress in my eyes but the script didn’t do her any favors yet at the end of the day, she did not turn in an impressive performance and instead of garnering some kind of sympathy, or lack thereof, it was a completely void of passion, a dagger’s blow for any drama.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.5/5
This release comes with a glossy slip cover and inside is a retail DVD Copy and a Digital Copy for either UltraViolet or via iTunes, a choice I wish more studios had.
Feature Commentary – Although not the most engaging commentator, Director Joe Wright provides a track which is insightful and provides anecdotal stories from the set as well as his ideas for a story which has been told many times before. It’s a bit better than the last commentary I heard from him which was Pride & Prejudice.
Deleted Scenes (13:08; HD) – There are eight scenes that were not included in the final cut and while, like the movie itself, look nice, they really don’t offer anything new to the movie.
Anna Karenina: An Epic Story About Love (4:54; HD) is an all too short featurette with some basic interview sound bites with the cast and crew as they chat about the classic story.
Adapting Tolstoy (5:12; HD) delves into screenwriter Tom Stoppard adapting the classic novel and the choices he made to turn a 600+ page book to 130+ page screenplay. The featurette goes beyond the screenplay and goes into Joe Wright’s choice of the style he chose in filming it in basically one location.
Keira as Anna (4:25; HD) has Keira Knightley, along with others, discussing her role in the title character. Again, nothing profound but at least you get some information into how the character was portrayed.
On Set with Director Joe Wright (5:05; HD) – The director is the focus of this featurette going into the vision he presents into this adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel. It features much of the same kind of interview footage as the other featurettes.
Dressing Anna (3:26; HD) is about the Academy Award-nominated costume design by Jacqueline Durran.
Anna Karenina: Time-Lapse Photography (8:16; HD) is a cool feature to see the crew put together the various sets.
VIDEO – 4.75/5
If there was one thing you can say about this movie, it’s that it’s never boring to look at and the 1080p transfer certainly looks incredible on Blu-ray. The movie, presented in its original 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio, features bright colors, remarkable contrast and impeccable detail levels throughout. There are some natural film grain but nothing of abundance and only adds to the in-home theatrical experience and also lends to better detail be it background or up close objects or characters.
AUDIO – 4.5/5
The disc comes with a robust and expansive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio which really shines between Dario Marianelli’s score which is most likely the only emotional element of the entire production. In any case, the dialogue levels sound nice and clear and there’s a fair amount of ambient noise which come through with depth in the front and, especially, rear speakers.
OVERALL – 3.25/5
Overall, Anna Karenina is yet another film with plenty of potential but failed thanks to a lifeless script and oft stilted acting from what is normally a respectable cast. This is the epitome of style over substance as Wright attempts to give his portrayal a different flavor than those that have come before and while I do appreciate trying something different, perhaps more focus should’ve been paid on the script and, in some cases, casting. This is not a completely disastrous production and not void of anything good, but for me it’s worth one viewing only and will be tossed aside until someone else attempts another adaptation thinking he or she will be the one to properly bring it to the big (or small) screen.