I practically stalked all the local movie theatre listings until one (the one across town, of course) started showing Anna Karenina. There was no way I was going to not see this – Joe Wright direction, Tom Stoppard adaptation, Dario Marienelli score…I am so in. I even turned down an extra shift at the store because I essentially had one shot to see this.
I loved it. The idea to set the story in a proscenium theatre and use the backstage, the floor, the seats, the loge, everything was genius. It served to heighten the distinction between the false world of rules inhabited by Anna/Vronsky/Karenin and the natural world that Levin adores – when the camera finally breaks through the back-wall of the stage and move out into the fields was amazing. Also amazing were the trademark Joe Wright tracking shots – one single take with a spiraling camera to follow Levin from Oblonsky’s office to the restaurant was just mind-boggling to think of all the set-up involved.
The casting – with one glaring exception – was excellent. Although not my favorite actress, Kiera Knightly did well as Anna. Jude Law played against type as the older, very staid, very Orthodox Karenin. Alicia Vikander (who I didn’t realize was both Swedish and about twenty-five) was perfect as the young, starry-eyed Princess Kitty. Even the small roles were perfect – Kelly MacDonald as Dolly, Matthew MacFadyen as Oblonsky, Olivia Williams as Countess Vronksy, and Ruth Wilson (who I absolutely did not recognize as a blonde) was the insipid yet dangerous Princess Betsy. Loved the cameos – Michelle Dockery and Emily Watson as ancillary Russian aristocracy – with Shirley Henderson and her wonderful cutting voice as a disapproving matron at the Opera.
Which brings me to my glaring exception – Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky. What an annoying, unconvincing little brat. He isn’t that attractive, he doesn’t even look seductive. Just a poseur with a wimpy little moustache. He had big shoes to fill (Kevin McKidd, Sean Bean, Christopher Reeve, and Fredric March) and just didn’t pull it off. I didn’t believe that Anna forsakes her husband and the child she can’t hardly bear to leave behind for him. Ugh. There must be a thousand and one other young, talented, smoldering actors they could have cast instead.
To end on a happier note, I have to mention the music. The music. Dario Marianelli (who previously won an Oscar for his work on Atonement, was nominated for Pride and Prejudice, and also wrote the music for Jane Eyre, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and V for Vendetta) is like a chameleon. Every score sounds different from the previous one because he fits the type of music to the film. For Atonement the music is very longing, but stoic. Pride and Prejudice is very late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century in feeling with a lot of solo piano mixed with reels and period-sounding pieces. Jane Eyre is free-spirited and lonely, like the moor Jane wanders across. For Anna Karenina, Marianelli has created a score reminiscent of classic Russian ballet (the great walzes of Tchaikowsky and Prokofiev) mixed with the simplicity of Russian folksong. It is so, so wonderful to listen to, especially “Dance With Me” which makes me want to twirl around the room (caveat: this is a choreographed ballroom scene which Aaron Taylor-Johnson makes a mockery of by not adequately performing the choreography, making it yet another thing I don’t like).
Sorry, no previews. The new Blogger app for iPhone apparently ate my original draft post so I can’t remember the previews aside from Promised Land (eh….) and the one where Ewan MacGregor and family are in the tsunami. Oh, Great Gatsby, too (which looks both crazy and amazing).