If it doesn't ultimately engage your heart as it might, Anna Karenina is period drama at its most exciting, intoxicating and modern. Spellbinding.
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The film contains far more passion and a tad more complexity than the dominant and typically more staid model of middlebrow costume drama.
Every unhappy movie is unhappy in its own way, and Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is as boldly original a miscalculation as any you're likely to see.
Setting most of the action in a mocked-up theater emphasizes the performance aspects of the characters' behavior, a strategy enhanced by lead thesp Keira Knightley's willingness to let her neurotic Anna appear less sympathetic than in previous incarnations.
Pimped, primped and dressed to the nines, Joe Wright's Tols-toy story looks the business. Like a disappointing Christmas present, though, the pleasure quickly evaporates once you remove the shiny paper.
Both fascinatingly theatrical and thrillingly cinematic, a picture that's lingered on our minds more than we expected.
The Wright/Stoppard Anna Karenina is not a total success, but it's a bold and creative response to the novel.
Knightley embodies Anna as a girlish woman who has never felt erotic love; once smitten, she is raised to heavenly ecstasy before tumbling into the abyss of shame. It's a nervy performance, acutely attuned to the volcanic changes a naive creature must enjoy and endure on her first leap into mad passion. She helps make Anna Karenina an operatic romance worth singing about.
The results are generally refreshing. Much of the film takes place inside a theatre, as if to suggest the shenanigans of the Saint Petersburg aristocracy were a form of public entertainment.
Dazzlingly designed and staged in a theatrical setting so as to suggest that the characters are enacting assigned roles in life, this tight and pacy telling of a 900 page-plus novel touches a number of its important bases but lacks emotional depth, moral resonance and the simple ability to allow its rich characters to experience and drink deeply of life.