|Keira Knightley hanging out at a Russian train station in the 2012 film adaptation of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy|
I love the classic remake industry in Hollywood. I am just a huge fan because I feel like it is the most Hollywood thing that Hollywood does that isn't a total embarrassment to world culture (vs. the Hollywood blockbuster, which is a totally Hollywood thing that IS a total embarrassment to world culture or vs. the indie film which isn't a very Hollywood thing that ISN'T a total embarrassment to world culture.)
With classic film remakes you've got a little good (the source material), a little bad (inevitable involvement of A-list Hollywood actress to "get the film made.") and a perpetual wild card (the treatment by the production team.) which often makes these films an interesting target for Arts criticism.
|Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina in the 2012 film version of the Leo Tolstoy novel|
Often criticism of these remakes tries to relate the resulting film to the source material, which is ridiculous. That's an especially ridiculous path when it comes to Anna Karenina. It took me close to 20 hours to read the book- and I'm a fast reader- and the film is only 2 hours long, so you are talking about an act of condensation equivalent to reducing the bulk of an object by 90%. There is no comparison. Rather, you are talking about an abstraction/conceptualization of the story and themes of Anna Karenina. Those are: Adultery, Russian Society in the Mid-Late 19th century & the lives of the wealthy in Russia during this period.
Putting that narrative and thematic content into a film produces something different then a translation of the book into the film. Much in the same way that early 19th century "translators" of literature would simply rewrite the source material into a new language, Hollywood film adapters "translate" classic literature into another story that shares the same name with the original.
Specific to this adaptation you've got Keira Knightley- who is sublime i.e. both great and terrible at the same time- in her performance as the titular Anna- a feckless wife with an irrestible attraction to the handsome County Vronsky. As a bonus you've also got Jude Law- essentially wasted- as her feckless husband Alexei 1. You've got a script by Tom Stoppard- which is obviously a "plus" and he is paired with director Joe Wright, who has an established track record in directing filmed adaptations of classic works of literature starring Keira Knightley: 2005's Pride & Prejudice and Atonement in 2007. (1)
Perhaps though the best thing Anna Karenina has going is the set design and costumes- which are sumptuous and mean that the viewer is never actually bored during the somewhat tedious and protracted examples of Keira Knightley trying to be "deep." Or shallow and vain- it's still not clear, after reading both the book and watching this movie, whether Anna Karenina is supposed to be sympathetic or a villainess- maybe that is a reason why this book is such an incredibly enduring classic- the ambiguity.
The novel essentially oscillates between drawing room conversations or their Russian equivalents and big set pieces at balls, train stations & horse races. The drawing room sequences are elegantly depicted but lack spark, and the set pieces are shot with care but without flair.
Overall it's a worthwhile viewing- if only for the negative aspects of Keira Knightley once again hamming it up in period costume- which are hilarious.
(1) I know Atonement is not a classic work of literature but rather a book published in 2001 that might arguably be a classic someday. The adaptation still starred Keira Knightley, took place in the past and was directed by Joe Wright so close enough I say.