Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Tom Stoppard
They say, that all the world is a stage. In his latest film, I cannot help but feel director Joe Wright took it a bit too much to heart. I cannot say I disagree with the assessment, however. The greatest of life’s tales, of its drama, comedy and romance occur in real life. The media of film and of stage, of books and of great Russian novels is but a fraction of the true wonder that life has to behold us. Why, then, should I care about the lives of fictional Russian aristocrats and their troubling romantic endeavors? There is no reason, I freely admit it. The reason I have for interest in this film lies in its subtle intricacies and its unique style.
Based on the famous novel by Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina tells of the romantic affairs of its title character (Keira Knightley) during Imperial Russia of the 1800s. Anna is married to a respectable statesman (Jude Law), but she soon draws a mutual affection with a young cavalry officer, Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who was originally vying for the affection of Anna’s niece Kitty (Alicia Vikander). The affection grows into a love affair, which quickly begins to crush her relationship with her husband and her friends around her, but her love for Vronsky aims to overcome the social restrictions and stigma put upon their relationship. Matthew Macfayden, Kelly Macdonald and Olivia Williams also star in this beautiful adaptation of the Tolstoy classic.
Unconventional does not begin to describe this film. Bizarre it is not, but unconventional in ways I would have never imagined, and it all starts with the way in which Joe Wright decides to stage the film, by literally staging it. I cannot say I blame him after seeing the results, but I must admit it took a bit to get used to the film unfolding on a theater’s stage, a setting I suspect not all viewers will be able to accept. I, for one, found it to be a brilliant stroke for this tale. In addition, the pacing of the film was superb, often with scenes and sets rolling together in a way that might be reminiscent of a stage play. The narrative maintained momentum throughout in a sort of perpetual motion. The construction of the film and its editing is nothing short of imaginative genius.
And the style does not stop there. The film reeks of it. From the costumer design to the art direction and production design, and especially the musical composition (Dario Marianelli) and cinematography (Seamus McGarvey), this film is a technical giant that brings out the best in the Joe Wright team of collaborators. Often there are films out there that are deemed “style over substance”. I certainly think this film qualifies for such a label. So much so that the style of it alone left me speechless. It physically unnerved me to the point that I am sure the people around me in the theater probably thought I disliked the film by my reactions. But in reality I was merely upset by how brilliant it was. There is too much movie magic to describe.
I did say it was style over substance, but you know what, this film is based on a famed novel by a famed author, and yes, the story is pretty darn good too. A sweeping romance of melodrama wonderfully acted by the entire cast. I cannot say I was displeased by any performance, though impressed by many. In addition to the painstaking love triangle at the heart of the film, there was a secondary pursuit of affection that seemed to complete and compliment the first. And it was this second pursuit by Constantin Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) which brought the film to balance, the balance of subtlety in the midst of high melodrama. It is true, I am a big Joe Wright fan to begin with, but to say this is his masterpiece would not make that word worth any less.
**** – Masterpiece