Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Anna Karenina (2012)
Anna Karenina. Gah. I really struggled with this one.
Joe Wright's decision to film all the action in a rundown theatre is something of an immediate head fuck that initially repulsed me, then I found myself trying to come to terms with it by considering just how inventive it was and how it invested a familiar story with bold auteur like creative vision. After all, it's not totally unusual, Ken Russell confined the whole action of The Boy Friend to one down at heel end of the pier theatre.
But ultimately in creating such a subversive and intentionally inauthentic hyperreal setting, it is a move that stifles the story and robs it of its heart. It's hard to engage with the emotional heft of the story and some of the mannered and/or larger than life comedic playing does little to change that either. I'm not convinced by the casting either; I like Knightley more than most but this is possibly the least impressive performance she's given for Wright. Aaron Taylor-Johnson continues to look slappably callow but fails to convince us by the agonies the character ultimately endures, whilst Domhnall Gleeson does very well with a story that feels very much sidelined; after all, when the main story of Anna is itself sidelined for the visual flair of the fantasy setting what hope does a secondary story have?
I've seen Wright's creative vision being likened to Powell and Pressburger but frankly that's a load of old tut. I admire Wright and I give him kudos for trying something so distinctive and different but it is deeply flawed and in no way reaches the creative heights of The Archers. This was more Baz Luhrmann, and let's face it though I have no real problems with that Aussie auteur, he's hardly likely to be mentioned in the same breath as P+P now is he?
In conclusion, beyond my initial alienation and misgivings, I can't help but find this a rich and visually stimulating affair but it works to the detriment of the story and as such it doesn't quite come off. Wright has previously cited David Lean, and specifically his Doctor Zhivago, as a major influence upon his work, such a shame then that he didn't take his cue from that epic and make something just as impressive but more straightforward.
I may have to watch this again sometime, and I may change my mind - I've a feeling it's the kind of film that begs for reevaluation - but for now, this is a beautiful, though hollow, misfire.