Anna Karenina’s pleasing to the eye, but once you engage the mind and heart it falls irredeemably flat. Heavily stylised dance sequences, glittering visuals and visible costume and set changes take place almost entirely within the confines of an old theatre. The action plays out across this stage and whilst being attention grabbing and fleetingly interesting, this decision unfortunately appears to have been made by a director aspiring for uniqueness, rather than for any integral thematic reason. I give it credit for trying to present a period drama in a fresh and bold new way; it’s just that the chosen approach obviously has to make sense in regard to film’s other elements, for example the screenplay, however here it doesn’t connect and therefore becomes just a frustrating visual device. It’s a failed experiment with performances which, whilst not poor, are unable to save the film.
Tom Stoppard has done a good job of slimming the book’s vast scope down into a working screenplay. Whilst most of the political discussion that takes place in the novel has had to be cut this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and the film really focuses on the nature of love – both the nice and the ugly side. Domhnall Gleeson who plays Levin gives perhaps the best performance within the film, I bought that he was in love which is more than can really be said for anyone else and he brought a likeability to the role which got me on his side. Aside from him however no one else was particularly bad or good. The chemistry between Anna (Keira Knightley) and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) never convinces and with this crucial goal left unfulfilled, the rest of the film winds up not really evoking our emotions or empathy.
It’s a shame that the film never comes together; its unsubtle approach of setting the characters’ lives on a stage quickly begins to grate and scenes at times don’t feel cohesively linked together. Anna Karenina starts off using foreshadowing semi-discreetly, but its chosen method is continually built up and up as the film goes on and quickly becomes overused and overemphasised. There are so many irritating flaws and misjudged decisions contained in this film, that I would only recommend catching it on TV some time if the theatrical staging has intrigued you. It will impress with its visuals but strip away the bright lights and you’re left with a disappointingly empty and uninvolving film.