Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Man on Film: Anna Karenina

In an effort to get all of the Man on Film entries taken care of within this calendar year, I'm going to sacrifice quality even more than usual (a terrifying notion, to be sure) on some of the films that are left that are not particularly notable. This is one of those films.

When walking into a Joe Wright film, you at least have the hope of seeing something unique. Whether it was his unique take on Pride & Prejudice or his quirky vision on display in Hanna, Wright has a knack for bringing more to the table from a visual standpoint than many of his contemporaries. 

Don't mind his ridiculous hair
Joe Wright's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic Anna Karenina is no exception to this trend. 

Anna Karenina is often a marvel to behold, with its moving sets catching the audience up in a whirlwind of filmic motion. His choice for scene/setting transitions is a bold one without question; and from a sheer visual standpoint, Anna Karenina stands apart from much of its ilk. Unfortunately, these transitions wrap the audience up in the motion while undercutting any of the emotional ties one could have with most of the characters. 

Now it would seem that there is a symbolic importance to the choices Wright made, as the artificiality engendered in the sound stage/theater that much of the film takes place in would seem to serve a purpose in emphasizing an impurity in the lusty but improper romances afoot in those settings while the scenes set in the real world are scenes in which the characters' love is true. It is entirely possible that I could be misreading Wright's intentions, but I think I'm at least on the right track. While there would appear to be a deeper meaning to his choice, that doesn't excuse the fact that for all Wright's lofty goals and good intentions the choice falls flat and disengages the audience. Never mind the fact that his muse, Kiera Knightley, fails to win the audience over and has you wishing for her character's death by the film's coda, Anna Karenina simply drives away those wanting to emotionally invest in any of the characters. When you throw in the comically bad style and make-up choices for Aaron [Taylor-]Johnson's hair and Ruth Wilson's (Alice from Luther) incredibly distracting prosthetic eyebrows to name a few, it's hard not to fault the film for its serious shortcomings. 

Much like in the only other Wright film I've written up in this forum, Atonement, this means that Wright has an often beautiful film in which the sum of the parts comes far short of what it should be. Jude Law, Domhnall  Gleeson, Kelly Macdonald, Matthew MacFayden, and Olivia Williams all turn in strong but ultimately wasted performances as the film actively tries to disconnect the audience from any emotional involvement. If this were a David Cronenberg film, such a choice might make a little sense. It doesn't here.

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