Pauls Valley, Oklahoma — Since the first days film captured the wonder and imagination of audiences across the world there has always been examples of how the format has borrowed from its roots in live theater. Whether a cinematic adaptation of tales told first on stage or utilizing tricks that continue to thrill visitors even in modern times, the two are an inseparable part entertainment’s very soul.
Today’s title certainly has certainly had a plethora of chances to be a part of both mediums since Leo Tolstoy put it to print and in this latest form presents one of the most blurred lines between the performance styles that I’ve had the chance to see. While it is obvious you are watching something meant for the silver screen throughout, everything from the pacing to the body language and the scene transitions flow in an orchestrated ballet one would expect to end with a final curtain. “Anna Karenina” does nothing to escape the label of being “artsy,” but also does what it can to keep one engaged with a well delivered plot observing the pitfalls of selfish temptation.
Set in 1874 Imperial Russia, we follow the nearly frenzied paced life of Anna (Keira Knightley), a member of the elite rich class, who like all busy bodies must try and fix every problem that comes across her line of sight. Despite the advice of her husband Alexei Karenin (Jude Law) to just leave a messy situation home, she once again attempts to save the day by mending the marriage of her brother Stephan "Stiva" Arcadievitch Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) after it was pretty much shattered by his infidelity.
Though she is mostly successful in doing so, it seems in her meddlesome spree that she attracts the notice of Count Alexei Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a strapping young lad promised to another woman. Try as she might, Anna cannot escape his stalker like advances and thus follows a situation so eye-rollingly stupid, one then realizes where every premise for soap operas came from. In this downward spiral veiled in a love story there are lessons anyone can carry away about how despite a freedom to do what one wants, no societal stature or amount of wealth can spare us eternally from the consequences of bad decisions.
If there is anything there that hurts the overall presentation it would be the subtle nature or how it doesn’t make absolutely clear when something is literal and all in someone’s head. Only after reading up on the scripted story did I find out that some of the scenes were created by the lead character’s paranoia instead of those where it was happening in “real time” and for some people this is only made more confusing since the speed of some scenes transitioning to the next leaves little time to digest what just happened.
However, having set expectations somewhat low I did enjoy it more than I thought I would and give it high props for stunningly beautiful visuals in the sets as well as costumes. Even more flawless was the soundtrack, which is a brilliant classical tribute other great Russian composers would feel honor to hear. In the end, the final verdict for “Anna Karenina” is three and a half out of five affairs.
DVD rental courtesy of Family Video of Pauls Valley.