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Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

In Theatres: 
Nov 16, 2012
Running Time: 
2 Hours, 10 Minutes

Anna Karenina is not only one of the best films of the year, it also reigns as director Joe Wright's masterpiece.

I've spoken before on what makes a masterpeice. Must the content be enjoyed by every person in order to be considered a masterpiece? Must the material be better than any others that year? I am not a believer in either of the two mentioned. For a masterpiece to take place, all one needs is the absolute definition of the artist. In this sense, how do you define director Joe Wright? What could define this man's artistic ability and cinematic vision? Anna Karenina is that definition. 

Responsible for the excellent period dramas Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and even last year's classic Hanna, Joe Wright brings audiences his new vision for the world of Anna Karenina. Originally introduced by acclaimed author Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina follows Anna (Keira Knightley), the beautiful wife to the Russian Minister, Alexei Karenin (Jude Law). Once Anna gets word of her brother Stiva's (Matthew Macfayden) affair, she takes the next train out to Moscow to comfort her sister-in-law Dolly (Kelly Macdonald). On arrival, Anna encounters the captivating Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and begins an unsettling relationship with the officer, much to the disapproval of her other sister-in-law Kitty (Alicia Vikander) who has fallen for Vronsky herself. Anna soon finds herself in the middle of a love affair that not only questions her marriage but questions the way Russia views their own Minister who cannot seem to maintain a stable marriage. With every Russian eye on her, Anna must decide which love truly makes her happy, her marriage with Karenin or her affair with Vronsky. Meanwhile, a young farmhand, Kostya (Domhnall Gleeson) must decide between his love for Kitty and his responsibility on the farm. Stiva attempts to help the young lad while Kitty finds herself distracted on the affair between Anna and Vronsky. Regardless of their situations, everyone in Russia is fighting for one thing: Love. 

Given the great popularity of the source material, any director would set their version of Anna Karenina in Russia and film on location. However, if he has proven one thing in his career, it's that Joe Wright is not just any director. Wright makes an extremely bold move and films almost the entirety of his Anna Karenina inside a theater. With the majority of the sets incoporating the stage, Wright very literally made the connection between the time period where everyone is Russia was putting on an act in their appearances and demeanors and the idea of them carrying on with their lives around a stage. It's an idea that will lose certain viewers but at the same time seduce so many others as to what Wright has crafted here. In more than a few instances does it become apparent as to why certain scenarios are filmed on the stage rather than off of it, such as when Anna storms out of her son's bedroom (the stage) once her knowing husband has discovered her affair. It's tiny details like this that make Anna Karenina a beautiful feat of cinema. 

Wright also struck gold with his version of Anna Karenina by bringing on such a perfect cast. Knightley steals the show as a love-torn wife turned mistress, Anna. Knightley has never been better and it's not hard to believe seeing as some of her best performances were under the direction of Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement). Aaron Taylor-Johnson shows the serious side of his acting abilities after showing Hollywood how he can kick ass in the aptly named Kick-Ass. Standing toe-to-toe with acting powerhouses like Jude Law and Knightley, Johnson seems right at home. Speaking of Law, it is in his performance of Minister Karenin that he pulls off one hell of a difficult character. Balancing hatred with love and understanding with over-reaction, Law somehow makes the broken Karenin into a sympathetic character rather than the easy path of playing him as a villain. It is in Wright's Anna Karenina that Law introduces one of his best performances, if not his best. It's easy to get caught up in the drama between the three leads, but not when Stiva is running around Russia, making humor of almost everything he touches. Macfayden plays Stiva as almost a jester, having multiple affairs while still teaching Kostya of how to confess his love to Kitty. One wouldn't think it by looking at the material, but Anna Karenina has many a laugh to share and a majority of those laughs come from Stiva and his antics. Everyone else cast here plays their characters incredibly well, even if they are just walk-by characters. 

It's hard not to look at his history and realize that everything Wright has done has led to this version of Anna Karenina. His ability to accurately capture one of history's greatest romances (Pride & Prejudice), his ability to dive into controversy (Atonement) and his sheer skill of a filmmaker (Notably the one-shot subway station fight between Eric Bana and thugs in Hanna) all have led to this incredibly magnificent piece of filmmaking. There are countless other reasons to fall in love with Wright's Anna Karenina but none more than Wright's craft of a beautifully unique and clever way of storytelling. Some audiences might lose sight of what is reall going on (a number of people in my screening never could grasp where the characters were, just that they were constantly on a stage), but those who buckle in and embrace the originality of his filmmaking are in for the best treat of 2012. Heartbreak, love affairs and block letters never looked so good as they do in Joe Wright's absolute masterpiece, Anna Karenina. 


Ryan Sterritt
Review by Ryan Sterritt
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