Anna Karenina

By Cory Haggart

Mailed on November 28, 2012

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Dear Denis Khoroshko
Ballroom Guest (uncredited)

Dear Denis,

I'm glad I wasn't supposed to know your character's name. This adaptation of Leo Tolstoy 's massive book is filled to the brim with characters whose stories constantly intersect as they weave across all levels of 19-century Russian society in the twilight of an empire. The result is a wonderful, passionate, and cinematic approach to the one of the best literary works ever.

Atonement director Joe Wright uses every cinematic trick in the book to show what couldn't be outright told. This film should be giving other directors new ideas on how unfilmable books might be treated. All of Tolstoy's themes are included - the effects of class, gender, tradition, loyalty, compassion, forgiveness, hatred, love, lust, as well as the contrasts between agrarian and city life. The trick is to not only rely on dialogue and acting, but also lighting, judicious editing, fantastical set design, sharp cinematography, dancing, and a sometimes-impressionistic approach to reality.

The story follows Anna (Keira Knightley) who becomes involved with the charismatic young Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). She then abandons her fastidious older husband (Jude Law) an all hell breaks loose. Diverting from this titular tale is the story of Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) who is trying both understand his role in the world, and win the heart of Kitty (Alicia Vikander). Their romance is complicated by the fact that Kitty is betrayed and embarrassed by both Anna and Vronsky's affair.

Note that this is an extremely simplistic summary of the film's plot (to say nothing of the novel). Most reviews are fixated on how much was left out. Sheesh! Naturally there were going to have to be choices. At only two hours, this had to be a stripped-down interpretation of the work. If we were using the adaptation math of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, Anna Karenina would have to have been about nine movies long.

I think Tolstoy would have approved. There are certainly compromises, a different cast might have brought entire different sensibilities to the story. You could even make a few more movies with all uncredited material. But this version is loyal to Tolstoy, whose work was epic and passionate but often built of small moments. Glances, quiet conversations, and introspection are just as important as religious or sexual ecstasy and bellowed curses. It's all in there, and the complexities of being human are woven throughout, from the doomed leading lady to the most innocuous Ballroom Guest.

Thanks you, sir,


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