08 November 2012

Sumptuous but Unsubtle

Tonight I had the oppurtunity to see a free screening of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley in the title role. It was definitely intriguing and at times spell-binding, but (as is my way) there were certain aspects of the film I just could not get past. Full disclosure: I have never read Tolstoy's novel (though now I am inclined to), so I have no knowledge of the source material. The only thing I knew going into this story was *spoiler* she throws herself on the train tracks in despair over her lover. So with that ahead are the things I loved and the things that made me go hmmmm ...

From the moment the curtain rises (yes, there is an actual curtain) on Anna Karenina the audience is pulled into a dance. The characters are constantly in flux, interacting with each other. The writer (playwright Tom Stoppard) and director (Joe Wright) use the conceit of a playhouse to create a world that is both tangible and surreal, moving from location to location with the same swiftness that the characters move from room to room. The first word that came to my mind upon seeing the world the filmmakers had created was "sumptuous". Indeed, everything from the clothing to the jewels to the very walls dripped opulence.

Added to that, a star studded cast. Think of your favorite period drama on television, Downton Abbey, The Borgias, Boardwalk Empire, the cast of Anna Karenina is littered with them. And I'm not going to lie, I teared up a bit just from seeing William from Downton alive and kicking in Anna. The bad thing about having such an amazing supporting cast was that it definitely felt like Knightley was out of her depth on occasion. Don't get me wrong I think this is one of Knightley's best performances to date. She plays Anna's never-ending slide into depression and despair wonderfully but when an actress like Ruth Wilson can steal a scene with a raise of an eyebrow, Knightley's performance seems overwrought.

Which brings me to my biggest critique of the movie. Despite the beauty, the cheekiness of the writing and the covetous fashions, I find it hard to fully immerse myself in what is essentially an exercise in white privilege. Though Anna Karenina might be a "timeless" "classic' in essence, it's just another story of a privileged white girl running from her gilded cage. The initial chemistry between Anna and Vronsky even seems forced as if it is only a means to get us to some drama. And just like when I heard about the umpteenth re-imagining of Pride & Prejudice (whose 2005 remake also starred Knightley), there were various parts of the movie when I found myself wondering why I was supposed to care about this story. What makes Anna Karenina unique? Not the film, but the story. The film is a great cinematic gem. The story is told in a way that makes you wonder what you will see next ... but the story? Ultimately, it's just another "timeless" tale of a woman who has everything she wants and needs but finds a way to be unhappy. Maybe the book gives you a deeper insight into the character but from what I saw, it seemed like a story that been told a million times, albeit this time it was riveting to watch.

No comments: