'Anna Karenina': Classic story bogged down by poor script

By Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comFebruary 1, 2013 

Keira Knightley plays Russian author Leo Tolstoy's timeless heroine, Anna Karenina. She gives a tortured performance as a woman bound by marriage to Jude Law's Karenin. He a boring, lifeless upper echelon government bureaucrat. Life of the party, Anna thinks she's happy until the self-absorbed Count Vronsky crosses her path.

The acting suffers from director Joe Wright's schizophrenic production and Tom Stoppard's overwrought writing. Law is pitch perfect in his role, and the supporting players fill things in nicely. Main characters Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky are the problem.

They don't just have an affair. It's a scandalous production so overdone that in places, it makes you uncomfortable. Instead of watching a story unfold, you feel like you're a peeping Tom taking in intimate details of a personal relationship that is none of your business.

Knightley's agonizing pity party wears on you. Taylor-Johnson's (Kick-Ass) last-Coca-Cola-in-the-desert persona quickly grows stale. There is zero chemistry between the two actors and no sizzle to sell the steak. No way do you imagine these two connecting as friends much less as lovers willing to throw everything they have away to be with each other.

Tolstoy's story is a deeply human examination of love, faithfulness, jealously, forgiveness and life in the city vs. life in a country setting, and how those unique human conditions touch us all, no matter what our social status.

They are thrown away by Wright and Stoppard' paint-by-numbers script and movie.

Early on, Anna Karenina is a big, sumptuous production. Bordering on overdone, it's cleverly conceived and exceptionally creative. The story is set on theater stages. Scenes unfold and then blend and morph into a different scene on another theater stage, which then is transformed into another. One after another they interlock and interact and move the plot forward.

It is nice work that adds a unique edge to a classic story.

Then Wright (Atonement) and Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) abruptly switch gears. The creativity and fast-pacing go away, and they move deeper into Leo Tolstoy's classic story. At this point, Wright's movie doesn't just settle down, it bogs down.

Director: Joe Wright

Stars: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Mr. Movie rating: 2 1/2 stars

Rated R for mature themes. It is playing at the Carmike 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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