Any of you who’ve read my controversial Blu-ray review for ‘Downton Abbey‘ know that I don’t find most dramatic period pieces entertaining. Although I didn’t much care for his ‘Atonement‘ or ‘Pride & Prejudice‘, I gained a huge appreciation for director Joe Wright with the assassin thriller ‘Hanna‘. With this newfound respect for his potential, I’ve been interested to see what he would do with Tolstoy’s classic Russian morality tale. I expected to enjoy it more than Wright’s last two Keira Knightley dramas, but I sure didn’t foresee myself falling in love with it.
If, like me, you don’t find much enjoyment in period pieces, know that ‘Anna Karenina’ is unlike any you’ve ever seen. For those who know the story well, Wright’s concept will make it seem refreshingly new. And those who, also like me, know nothing about ‘Anna’ going in, will be able to bask in its all-around perfection.
The film tells the story of a young aristocratic woman in late 19th Century Russia. As it opens, we see Anna (Knightley) put out a fire between her unfaithful brother (Matthew Macfayden) and his furiously heartbroken wife (Kelly Macdonald). Anna convinces her sister-in-law not to leave her brother, only to start down her own illicit path of infidelity. Her husband (Jude Law) isn’t at all a bad man, he is a restrained man. He doesn’t often open up or show his affection, which leaves a void in Anna’s heart. Blowing off her husband and child, Anna begins a destructive affair with a young nobleman (Aaron Johnson, who now appears to be going by Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
If you saw ‘Closer‘, then you know that watching a tale of awful cheating and spite isn’t much fun. Balancing out the depressing content here is a hopeful story of young love, a relationship that’s the polar opposite of the selfish one that Anna has. Just when you think you can’t bear to watch Anna ruin her life any further, relief comes through this secondary story. Juxtaposed one on top of the other, ‘Anna Karenina’ offers an intelligent and thought-provoking tale of the definition of love.
As if the classic story wasn’t enough to make the film worth watching, Wright’s direction throws the movie into a perfect state. At first, I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but after a few minutes I realized what I was seeing: Joe Wright has set nearly the entire film inside a theater. Like a live performance, the scenery is swapped out while we watch the actors on the “stage” in front of it. Often, these set changes tie in with the in-story actions. Speaking about it doesn’t do the effect justice, but I can guarantee that the concept of this film will be cited in the history books. What it achieves is brilliant and must be seen to be fully comprehended and appreciated.
From a guy who doesn’t like most period pieces, calling ‘Anna Karenina’ a perfect film really means something. Once again, another movie has unexpected has crept into my Top 10 of 2012.