Sunday, September 09, 2012
Film Review: Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)
Performances in Anna Karenina are uniformly excellent. I remember, a decade ago, when Bend it Like Beckham first came out. It was a cute little movie about a girl juggling the pressures of her society and what she wanted, but one of the things that also stood out was Keira Knightley as the feisty friend who helps her get into a local girl’s team. It wasn’t the most polished performance, but then again, in Bend it Like Beckham, it didn’t need to be. A year later was Pirates of the Caribbean, where once again, she was appropriately spirited (her delivery of “you like pain? Try wearing a corset” is classic), but seemed to be continuing a trend of delivering solid, not spectacular, supporting roles as the pretty lady. Add in a few ill-fated turns in the likes of Domino, King Arthur and The Jacket, and the running joke amongst Brits was that Keira Knightley, though a pretty face (and a very beautiful one at that, something that is exhibited very well by Jacqueline Durran’s lavish costumes in Anna Karenina), wasn’t much scrub at acting itself.
Well, the era of mocking Knightley’s acting prowess is well and truly over, because she was quietly strong in Atonement, captured Lizzie Bennet’s playful cheekiness in Pride & Prejudice, and also more than up to the task as the crazy patient in A Dangerous Method. In Anna Karenina, she is excellent; I’d even go as far as to say she was awards-worthy. The thing about her Anna is, that not many viewers, reading the plot précis on the page, would have a whole lot of sympathy for a woman who voluntarily jacks in a comfortable marriage including a son she dotes on, all in pursuit of carnal desire with an admittedly dashing Count (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who wouldn’t say no). But Knightley imbues Anna Karenina with all the elements of her character, not just the ~selfish horndog~. She is a caring mother, a loyal sister to Stepan Oblonksy (a serial cheat, played with humour by Matthew Macfadyen; some would regard this is a quasi-incestuous casting, seeing as he played Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, and that) and overall, Tolstoy and Wright would have us believe, not a bad person. I certainly didn’t think she was, and that is all to the merit of Keira Knightley’s wonderful performance. It is funny, because one of the things she is oft-criticized for in her acting (the way her lip pouts and her jaw juts out) is snuffed out for the majority of the film, and it is only when her affair with Count Vronksy sours that it re-emerges, yet, ironically, this quite suits Knightley’s acting and certainly helps convey the mad, irrational woman Anna is being driven to become.
Overall, Anna Karenina is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in the cinema this year, which is truly high praise for a 19th century set Russian love saga with not a car chase in sight. Joe Wright deserves much praise for his brave take on a literary classic and his cast more than step up to the task, with Knightley, Law and Gleeson all show-stealing. As with many other Focus Features films (Brokeback Mountain, The Constant Gardner, Swimming Pool), the film is a treat to look at, with its swirling camerawork and the set which changes in front of your eyes. Anna Karenina caused controversy aplenty when it first came out due to its depiction of infidelity, but in truth, there is so much more to the book, encompassing themes of love, life & death, conformity, femininity and individualism. In just over two hours’ running time Wright was never going to cover every single one of them, but the end product, like our fearless, misguided lead, is beautiful to look at.
If you enjoyed this post, check out Poker Blogs' review of 21!