Joe Wright is one of my favorite directors because of his previous work with Keria Knightly on Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. Wright who I feel is an imaginative genius hasn’t quite lived up to his first two films. Anna Karenina is much like Cloud Atlas, it’s a daring and ambitious project that works in technical respects but not as a whole. Wright’s decision (whether fueled by the lack of budget or creativity) to have the entire Tolstoy adaptation revolve in and around a theater stage is quite brilliant, unique and inspired. However whether it’s the nature of the material or the disconnect this type of filmmaking creates with narrative Anna Karenina doesn’t as well as it should.

 Married to the beloved Russian patriarch Karenin (Law) who is as greatly lacking in excitement and looks, Anna (Knightly) abandons her marriage of 19 years when a young, blond officer catches her eye. Anna fully understanding what is at stake; her place in society, her children, and marriage, chooses love over the stale existence she finds herself in. Vronsky (Johnson) pledges to marry Anna if Karenin will divorce, however both his hatred of Anna and what she has caused, and willingness to forgive complicate the situation drastically. Anna begins to come unraveled at the mess she has made out of a life that was simple and good.

 In the first hour Wright introduces us to this vast world that doesn’t at all feel like it in confined to a theater stage. He flexes his creative strengths in nearly uncatchable editing cuts, sweeping cinematography, lavish art direction and unmatchable choreography. He uses sinister foreshadowing throughout the film to elude to the darkness. Wright took the old saying “All the world is a stage” very literally here and as far as technical elements go there is a lot to enjoy. His cleverness in simply getting a character from one scene or setting to another is mesmerizing in the first half.

 Knightly has only ever been nominated for a single Oscar, and that was for Pride & Prejudice. Her performance here is good but nothing comparative to previous performances and I think she will be overlooked this awards season, even in such a dire year for female performances. Both Law and Johnson are well cast in their roles alongside Knightly but neither give head turning performances. The latter half of the film really slows the pace and the creativity wears off leaving us with a lead character we don’t like which isn’t Wright’s fault.

 Final Thought – Creativity in the production value makes it visually appealing but wholly it’s lacking.

 Grade B-

By: Dustin Chase W.

Dr. Donna Copeland’s


This period piece reflects Russian high society in the late 19th century, and is based on a Tolstoy novel with a screenplay written by Tom Stoppard.  The director, Joe Wright, is well known for the edgy productions of The Soloist and Hanna, and here he seems to want to outdo himself, making the screen his palette for a modern art painting of a historical drama.  He seems to be interested as much in the commentary of the novel as the story.  For instance, he muses about love—its irrationality, its drama, its tragedy, and its mystery.  And he highlights a society caught up in its riches and pleasure, not only without regard for the masses of working people, but with denigration of labor and service and double standards for rich and poor, men and women.  More than once, the actors move like automatons, standing up, sitting down, changing Karenin’s clothes as he sails by them on important business.  A servant instantly holds an ashtray out for the nobleman as soon as the ash on his cigarette needs tapping.

Wright also uses abrupt cuts to stage scenes, as if we are watching a play, recalling Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage”, or having some of the scenes take place among the cables and pulleys above the stage, suggesting there is something more to the story than appears on the surface.  Pictures of Anna’s daydreams actually swirl around her head.  And like a modern painting with jagged patterns, a scene in the film will abruptly switch to the sounds and sights of train wheels.  

Because this is such a condensed version of a lengthy novel, I recommend that viewers who have not read the novel familiarize themselves with the characters and the story before seeing the film.  Especially in the beginning, characters appear with no introduction and with rapid changes of scene, which can be confusing.  Apparently, the assumption is that the viewer will have read the novel.  In addition, Director Joe Wright, says he wants the audience to participate in the film by using their imagination.

The actors are noteworthy, with Keira Knightley ably depicting the capricious Anna, Jude Law her solid noble husband, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson her exciting lover.  Kelly Macdonald and Emily Watson are first-rate in their brief appearances.

Grade:  B