Anna Karenina takes a story that has been told countless times before and reinvigorates it with amazing camera work, innovative storytelling, and palpable chemistry between the leads. Instead of telling the traditional story, Joe Wright opts to set this piece in a live theater setting – making it feel epic with its impressive transitions between stage and scope but also claustrophobic when it calls for it. Everything is set within one theater, taking place both on stage, in the audience, and backstage.
The only scenes that show the sweeping Russian landscape is those following Konstantin. He seemingly escapes the confines of Russian high society to lead a peaceful life with his bride, while Anna and the other characters are stuck in the confines of high society and their judgments. This is ultimately the undoing of the titular character who cannot withstand the pressure after having broken the expectations of high society.
The chemistry of Keira Knightley‘s Anna Karenina and Aaron Taylor-Johnson‘s Vronsky is palpable and anchors the film’s central story line. Were their relationship unbelievable, the entire production would fall apart. Anna may have originally loved Karenin (played by a miscast Jude Law), but all of the sparks fly between Anna and Vronsky. This is especially true in the first half of the film, where the tension of them not being together literally escalates the emotion of the film to the level of a musical.
The theatricality that runs throughout the production brings this element of choreography to the film that wouldn’t be present in a normal production. It toes the line of a musical, with these grandiose set pieces and emotional moments with dance elements without ever actually go so far as to break in to song. The scenes with Oblonskey in his office and the first coming out ball for Kitty particularly stand out for the incredible choreography to keep the pace snappy while also drawing out the dramatics.
Joe Wright has become a director to look forward to – when I see his name attached to a project, I get excited for it. Even if it is for a Russian novel I despised in high school and don’t think I ever finished. Leo Tolstoy has his fans, but I am not one of them.Wright has invigorated a Russian historical tale with modernity through his tropes and allowed us to draw comparisons from today’s society to that of the highly judgmental days of Russian high society. He continues to be a director to look out for and I truly hope he decides to tackle a more modern tale soon to expand his scope.