Joe Wright’s first film ‘Pride & Prejudice’ got rave reviews and a few important Academy Award nominations. Acclaim aside, I consider it an enjoyable film with Donald Sutherland as the soaring highlight. Keira Knightley nabbed her first Best Actress nomination, which seemed like a stretch. At that point, her performance in ‘Love Actually’ (supporting as it was) was more deserving of award attention. Wright and Knightley apparently got along very well, for they teamed up again for ‘Atonement’ (good, not great) and now ‘Anna Karenina’. Just like Audrey Tautou and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the two seem to have a strong professional bond.
‘Anna Karenina’, based on Lev (or Leo) Tolstoy’s eponymous novel, is their best collaboration yet. An impressive piece of work that showcases the enormous talent of all those involved: Wright’s showmanship (the long takes are a beaut), Knightley’s English touch of class (even when playing a Russian), Jude Law’s understated perfectionism (acting with all his might) and Matthew Macfadyen’s comic relief (who knew he could be so funny, even while committing adultery?).
Essentially shot as a theater play, with doors opening up to new locations, ‘Anna Karenina’ is a visual masterpiece. At all times, the actors take center stage while the world around them turns and bursts with activity. If this does not at least get a nomination for Best Art Direction, I will demand an investigation. Chauvinism rears its ugly head again, because I must praise the work of Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Movement and dance come together to form a breathtaking melange.
While Tolstoy’s influence and talent can’t be overstated, it must be said that ‘Anna Karenina’ (the novel) tends to be long-winded and meandering during certain chapters. ‘Anna Karenina’ (the movie) takes the source material (and some liberties) and creates a spectacular motion picture event. Not to be missed.
P.S. The R-rating is baffling. This is a movie for everyone, save for a few shots.