A year and a half ago I decided I had to read Tolstoi's masterpiece Anna Karenina. And earlier this year, a new adaptation of the novel premiered in cinemas. Directed by Joe Wright, who is also responsible for the latest version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Ian McEwan's Atonement, the film quite reminded me of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge (minus the crazy camera movements).
This adaptation takes places in a theater: the decorations change when the plot needs to take us to a different setting but it does so with such a beautiful, well-coordinated choreography, that most of the time the viewer could believe they got to film the scenes in actual bourgeois palaces of Imperial Russia. Only a few scenes let us out of the stage, following the naturalist idea that nature is where freedom and rupture with society's restraints can exist (that is, the whole plot with Levin and his ideas for revolution in the fields, and forests and flower fields as symbol of the only place where Anna and Vronsky can live their love freely).
Visually speaking, this Anna Karenina is a pleasure for the eyes and also for the ears: the orchestra's role is similar to that of a ballet, and the actors are the dancers that narrate the story more through dance movements than through actual dialogue.
However, there was one thing that did not convince me from the very beginning. Before I even got to see the movie I knew I wouldn't like it, and I was disappointed indeed. I don't think Keira Knightly (who was also the main actress in the director's movies mentioned above) makes a good Anna Karenina. I'm sorry, I didn't buy it. Mind you, her performance is not bad, but I missed some more maturity in her acting, a little more passion, more contrast between bored-through-loveless-marriage Karenina and in-love-like-a-15-year-old-teenager Karenina and overattached-girlfriend-Karenina and society-hated Karenina.
While Jude Law's Karenin exceded expectations (as in I ended up finding his performance acceptable after I had lost hope before watching the movie, even though a more mature-looking actor would have been a better choice in my opinion), my other big problem was Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Vronsky. Talk about miscast. Yes, Vronsky is younger than Anna, but he is also supposed to be a sort of womanizer, the kind of man all ladies desire. Maybe my doubtful criteria in men is to blame for this, but I don't think Taylor-Johnson is a man to lust for so much to the point of breaking all social convention and not caring if the world turns its back on you. And his performance is bland going to boring. As in would you mind acting like you're passionately in love?
Overall, while Anna Karenina is a beautiful film, both visually and acustically, it lacks some better acting for the main roles. This was compensated by the silent, more subtle acting of secondary characters and extras who gossip and give Anna very mean looks. Thankfully, the plot centered much more on Anna's love and fall from society than on the whole plot line with Levin's ideas for agriculture, and they cut Anna and Vronsky's journey to Europe (which would have slowed down the rhythm of the movie way too much). It's a quite good adaptation of the book and mantains most of the main events, so if you're too lazy to go through the more than 800 pages of Tolstoi's novel, give it a try. If you have read the book, I'd say it's best to view the movie more like a ballet/musical adaptation.