The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

January 14, 2013

Anna Karenina: Clever Historical Drama?

Roger Thomas
The Stanly News & Press

Monday, January, 14, 2013 — A brief internet search produced 12 different film versions of “Anna Karenina.” I must admit that if I have seen any of them before the newest version recently released in theaters, I do not remember the predecessors. However, I do not think I will forget this new film for a very long time.  

This “Karenina” is directed by Joe Wright and stars Keira Knightley in the title role. The two have worked together previously on “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement.” In my opinion, “Atonement” is one of the best love stories of the last decade. In a rare year, for 2007 I listed two films in the number one slot on my Top Ten List: “Atonement” and “Into the Wild.” If you have missed either of these two masterpieces of recent cinema, both 2007 films are available on DVD and they would make a diverse but outstanding double feature. “Atonement” was nominated for Best Picture but lost to “No Country for Old Men” (a great film by the deserving Coen Brothers); sadly, Sean Penn’s great directorial achievement “Into the Wild,” did not even get nominated.

I did not like “Anna Karenina” as much as I love “Atonement,” but I still enjoyed it a great deal and would like to see it again. The one greatest strength of the film is a decision the director made to shoot much of the film like it is happening in a theater playhouse. In fact, the scenes that are shot outside usually begin with someone opening a door and the camera following the action as it plays out just beyond the playhouse. Other scenes, including an exciting horse race, happen on the stage of the playhouse. Then some of the action happens in the rafters and scaffolding above the theater floor and stage. This may sound confusing or distracting, and it is not easy to describe here, but in an odd way it was fascinating and enhanced the narrative. In fact, I think this brave decision by Wright is the one thing that distinguishes this film as something special.

As for the story, it is a classic tale of love, passion and betrayal. There are those who feed on scandal and those who desire to avoid it. There are those who seek to discard commitment and those who place honor and integrity above all else. And, of course, in any tale such as this, there is tragedy and there is hope. This story has stood the test of time. “Karenina” was first published in 1877 and one 135 years later people are still captivated by this epic romance. Nothing else needs to be said about the grand plot of this film.

As for the other attributes of the motion picture, nothing is as compelling as the presentation of the story discussed above, but there are other strengths. Knightley is very good here, but it is doubtful that she will get her second Oscar nomination. Her first was for Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Jude Law was also very good as Anna’s husband but he probably will not add another nomination to his first two. The art direction (that wonderful theater) may get the Academy’s attention. Also the costumes and cinematography could get nods. I do not expect a lot of Oscar nods; it is a very crowded field this year, but “Karenina” is a very well-crafted film.

When I saw the film, the majority of the audience was senior adults. I may have been the youngest person in the theater. In the most complimentary way one can interpret this, I think “Karenina” is a very mature film, but most definitely one worth seeing by all discerning film fans.