I finally saw the Joe Wright (director) / Tom Stoppard (screenwriter) adaptation of Anna Karenina (R, currently priced at $12.99 to buy, not yet available for rent), and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While Amazon reviewers have only given this film an average rating of 2.5/5 stars, you’ll find the most negative reviews are from traditionalists who felt the film strayed too far from the source material, or left too much out. However, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina the novel has often been referred to as “unfilmable” on account of not only its length, but how much the book focuses on the interior lives of the characters: the “worlds within worlds” aspect. For those reasons, it would probably be impossible to do a 100% faithful adaptation.
In 1874, in the Imperial Russia, the aristocratic Anna Karenina travels from Saint Petersburg to Moscow to save the marriage of her brother Prince Oblonsky, who had had a love affair with his housemaid. Anna Karenina has a cold marriage with her husband, Count Alexei Karenin, and they have a son. Anna meets the cavalry officer Count Vronsky at the train station and they feel attracted by each other. Soon she learns that Vronsky will propose Kitty, who is the younger sister of her sister-in-law Dolly. Anna satisfactorily resolves the infidelity case of her brother and Kitty invites her to stay for the ball. However, Anna Karenina and Vronsky dance in the ball, calling the attention of the conservative society. Soon they have a love affair that will lead Anna Karenina to a tragic fate. - Written by Claudio Carvalho
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If you can accept that this film is not going to be 100% faithful to the source material, you may yet conclude it is faithful to Tolstoy’s themes and motifs and still find quite a lot to admire in it.
Aaron Johnson, who plays Vronsky in Anna Karenina, is best known for his portrayal of Dave in the title role of Kick-Ass.
The director’s conceit of presenting the Russian upper class and socialites as players on a stage is interesting, and adds a lot of (literal) theatricality and beauty to the film.
In the title role, Keira Knightly is just as lovely and believable here as she was in The Duchess, though there are some limitations placed on her performance by the adaptation process: there simply isn’t enough time in a movie to show and share everything that Anna thinks, feels and does in the novel.
Jude Law is nearly unrecognizable as the balding, stuffy Karenin, but his performance serves as a reminder that he’s not just a pretty face, Law is truly a world-class actor.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson co-starred in this movie too, though you’d hardly recognize him as “Ben”, the crunchy-granola pot farmer.
In the role of Anna’s young lover Vronsky, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a revelation. If you’ve only seen him in Kick-Ass as the awkward, nerdy high school kid Dave who transforms himself into real-life superhero Kick-Ass, you’re in for a big surprise. Here, he plays a magnetic, ambitious young military man on the rise, with a nearly predatory charisma.
It was only after seeing him in this film that I went over to IMDB.com to see what else he’s been in, and found he co-starred with Taylor Kitsch and Blake Lively in Savages. In that film he plays a laid-back, eco-conscious pot farmer. I haven’t seen that film yet, but critics praised Taylor-Johnson’s performance in it so it seems he’s an actor with quite a lot of range.
This film adaptation of Anna Karenina may not be an exact match to Tolstoy’s novel, but it’s highly recommended for fans of Stoppard, Knightly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Jude Law, as well as for anyone who enjoys period costume dramas and interesting visuals. Anna Karenina is a gorgeous puzzle box of a film.