The world wasn’t demanding another film version of “Anna Karenina,” and it certainly wasn’t demanding this bizarre reworking via director Joe Wright and writer Tom Stoppard.
In this go-round, the Tolstoy classic is presented within the confines of a cavernous theater. Props and furniture are moved about to set up and disassemble scenes, while stage flats rise and fall to suggest different locations in Tsarist Russia. Every now and then, the actors are posed before footlights and pulleys, and a toy train chugging along a miniature set substitutes for the genuine locomotive vehicle.
Is there a point to any of this? It is hard to say. The theatrical artificiality constantly upstages the Tolstoy tragedy, which turns this “Anna Karenina” into an endlessly annoying experimental film. At times, Tolstoy’s story pops up almost by accident, but it is quickly squashed by the production’s obnoxious insistence for being much too clever.
But on the other hand, the constant distraction away from the story may not be such a bad thing in view of the inept acting by Keira Knightley as the doomed Anna and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Count Vronsky. These actors were clearly cast for their good looks rather than their dramatic skills, and their inability to tap into genuine emotional angst ultimately wastes everyone’s time.
Jude Law turns up as Anna’s husband, but he is buried under an elaborate make-up job that effectively hides his pretty boy appeal. However, this weird bit of stunt casting is pointless – Law is no one’s idea of a great actor, and the combination of his weak performance and heavily disguised presence only adds to the confusion.
To the film’s credit, it is blessed with elaborate costumes designed by Jacqueline Durran. Too bad that no one figured out how to put talented actors into those costumes, let alone put those well-dressed performers into a decent movie.