From Russia with Hate
Review written by Robert Patrick
Starring: Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson
Regal attire, cocked grins, and swan-like floating in luminescent ballrooms. Leo Tolstoy’s revered and universally coddled Anna Karenina is a staple of literature that is air-tight to criticism and sordid guff. Here, director Joe Wright takes a praised work of art and ratchets it in the head with strobe lights and a weird melee of abrupt editing. Worse yet is that Tom Stoppard’s screenplay reads like a seventeen car pile up. The narrative bounces around with the carelessness of an inflatable castle at a child’s birthday party. How interesting, complex characters get passed through a cheese grater is anybody’s guess. Wright’s take on the Tolstoy novel has the heart of a soup can.
Brutish, bumbling trombones and marching orchestras are the beams that carry the movie. Foppish men and dolled up socialites make advances at one another, dance, make additional advances, dance, endure more flirtatious nail-biters, and dance. Meanwhile, a revolving door of mustaches and ornate helmets help pass the time. There is so much dancing in this film that it’s like a 19th century version of Flashdance in Russia. For the duration of the movie, English actors fold and bend words by using their limey accents – couldn’t this film be made in its native language? Caution to all those who enter the world of subtitles, apparently.
Whether you have a gravitas toward Tolstoy or you’re a philistine with your head buried in the sand, you will likely, because of the vapid screenplay, find your soul wilting after an hour of Wright’s grandiose self-indulgence. The film is like Anna Karenina Spark Notes with a production budget the size of the Pacific Ocean. If you weren’t predisposed to the literary classic in which this film is based upon, get ready for your wick of interest to be spat upon.
Keira Knightley plays the title character with her jaw – remarkably – wired shut throughout the proceedings. She waxes about love, dons elaborate dresses, and licks Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s mustache. Speaking of Taylor-Johnson, the thespian plays the diligent Count Vronsky with aloofness and equal parts charm. Mostly, though, A.T-J acts steely. Steely glares and steely lip-pursing. Steely fist-clenching and steely pouting (Russian people are particularly steely, we learn).
Basically, Anna Karenina is a flier to the Academy, saying, “we are really good at costume design and choreography.” Wright and company showboat their way through 120 superfluous minutes of sweeping dance sequences, body contortions, and pop gun editing. Great Jude Law sighting, however.