Anna Karenina (2012)

If you’re going to have an extra-marital affair, it usually helps to have a good reason, even if imaginary. Also, try to step up, not down.

Rating: Can be seen anywhere if you don’t fear boredom could cause a painful death.

Anna KareninaFor those of you familiar with Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, you know what happens to her in the end. After forcing my way through the strained adaptation by the otherwise accomplished Director Joe Wright, I was quite relieved to see her die.

The film has a number of problems, the first beginning with the decision to stage it as an amalgam of a stage play/cinematic epic. For some strange reason, many of the scenes actually begin with stage performances in front o fan audience, only to transform into a real life spectacle when a curtain is lifted.It never really catches fire, even from an artistic sense, and you can never come close to identifying with any of the principal characters.

To make matters worse, Anna Karenina, here played stoically by Keira Knightley, is little more than a selfish, self-centered twit. Despite being married to a caring government minister, played effectively by Jude Law, and also allegedly doting over her 8-year-old son, she splits to follow her would-be affection for the affluent, toadish Count Vronsky.

Vronsky is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and he is little more than an aimless ladies’ man with no identifiable skills. He doesn’t appear to be either intelligent or witty, and his idiotic mustache makes him look like a 16-year-oldboy masquerading for Halloween.

Look, if you have read the great biography “Catherine the Great”, written by Robert K. Massie, you already know what the social life was like in Russia in the 1870’s. Affairs were more prevalent than modern-day France, and the Empress’ first three children were by three different lovers.

But while Empress Catherine was forced to look elsewhere after being selected to marry the hapless heir apparent who had little use for her, Ms.Karenina’s husband was both dutiful and caring. Jude Law’s performance as the betrayed husband brings the only emotional strength to a film that is otherwise completely lacking.

I must also say that Anna Karenina is a supreme whiner who deserved in
every respect the disaster visited upon her. Leaving a loving husband does not bother her. Leaving both her son by marriage and her daughter from her affair is a small price to pay for a good lay. Even when she suspects she is dying and begs her dishonored husband to visit her, she rewards his wounded pride with a sublimely idiotic dismissal when recovering her health.

Quite frankly, you couldn’t help but question Ms. Knightley’s status as a recognized actress. She was disastrous in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method (2011), whose seizures were more annoying than heartfelt. Yes, I liked her in the Pirates of the Caribbean films (2003, 2006, 2007), not to mention her heartfelt portrayal in the overlooked drama about young kids raised as organ donors in Never Let Me Go (2010). However, here she is little more than a beautiful woman in tremendous hats with sexy dark facial netting. At a minimum, she has to change her style, if not re-evaluate where she is heading.

Finally, what really kills the film is what I referred to above, namely that Anna Karenina throws away her life for a preening Lothario who will eventually find another younger woman to bed. She is literally lured into impending disaster by the type of guy who would patronize strip clubs in major metropolitan areas in the 21st century, so the price she paid was well earned by any definition.

I can’t close without noting my disappointment in the script by Tom Stoppard, particularly given the fact that he wrote one of my favorite love stories in film, Shakespeare in Love (1998). Additionally, given Mr. Wright’s superlative direction of last year’ s wonderfully tantalizing Hanna, what he gives the audience here resembles his disappointing The Soloist (2009).

Could it be that he is far more talented dealing with a teenage girl who is a dark assassin as opposed to a 19th century Russian Countess who failed to anticipate the prophetic words of Stephen Stills, “Love the one you’re with.”