Blu-ray Review: 'Anna Karenina'

While “Anna Karenina” provides ample evidence of Joe Wright's importance as a director, it constitutes his first serious lapse in artistic judgment.
Published: February 15, 2013

Blu-ray review: ‘Anna Karenina'

Beginning with his auspicious 2005 directorial debut, a defiantly against-the-grain reassessment of Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice” starring his frequent lead actress, Keira Knightley, Joe Wright emerged as a forward thinker in genres that often fall back on predictable and reliable ideas. Even when he steered away from period pieces with 2011's excellent action film “Hanna,” Wright constantly pushed against convention. This is why Wright's baroque staging of Leo Tolstoy's “Anna Karenina” should not come as a surprise, but this is also the first time that Wright's style has subverted his source material, calling attention to itself rather than maintaining focus on the tragedy at hand.

Knightley convincingly surveys the central character as her infidelity against Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin (Jude Law) with Count Vronsky (a miscast Aaron Taylor-Johnson) sends her into a social and emotional spiral, but Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard are more concerned with the stagecraft surrounding her. This is meant in the literal sense: Most of “Anna Karenina” is presented as a filmed play, with much of the action presented in a theater and punctuated by bursts of choreography. Wright's grand display of style ultimately takes away from the depth of feeling a viewer should be experiencing in the face of Anna's downfall.

The Blu-ray features give Wright plenty of space to explain his methodology through featurettes and a commentary track. While “Anna Karenina” provides ample evidence of Wright's importance as a director, it constitutes his first serious lapse in artistic judgment.

George Lang

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