Saturday, 8 September 2012


Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is one film, then another. The first and second films balance each other out, until the second runs too long. That first film is all colour and movement, indeed, too much colour and movement - it froths about on the surface of the screen, beautiful but hollow. Wright makes a distinct effort to treat his version of the story in an original fashion, but his treats and tricks are rarely as original as he might hope. He ought to know - he's used them all before. The artificiality conjured by the relentless redecoration and the choreography is clever in its content but distracting in its effect, as though Wright wants us to know just how clever he is. As a result, by the time he stops trying so hard and we are able to begin to concentrate on the story, it's already underway. It's like walking into a play half an hour late, and appropriately so, as Wright makes every effort to enhance the theatricality of his film by, literally, staging it. Once things calm down, his filmmaking seems to run out of puff, so, while it may briefly be relaxing, it eventually becomes dull, particularly as the focus continually turns away from Anna and onto less compelling subplots. Anna Karenina is a story about the mind of one woman, hardly even what she does but why she does it and, more importantly, what it does to her. To relegate this aspect is to deprive this film of its greatest strength. Wright is a strong enough director to make things work even when he loses grip, though; even his recycled material has its qualities. A dance sequence may recall Pride & Prejudice - this time, the artifice is less startling and, thereby, less impressive, but this sequence nevertheless grows into one of the film's best. Keira Knightley is good as Anna, if no more, and Jude Law barely seems to register - even the other actors don't appear to notice him. I wish I hadn't noticed Aaron Johnson, who's normally a good actor, but so anachronistic here that one almost expects to see a pair of trainers at the bottom of his costume. He plagues every scene he's in. Fortunately, he's not in every scene and the production and costume design are. The sets are as intricately detailed as in the finest Chinese martial arts films, and among the most exquisite in any film I've seen. The costumes look like Christian Lacroix and John Galliano's wet dreams. But this is just surface glamour. I can understand how some may love this film but I merely admired it.