I watched so far like half an hour and was sourly disappointed and so I stopped there, but I will watch the whole thing. God, it’s awful.
First, who had the idiotic idea of the stage setting? No, no, no. It does not work here. Period. Don’t get artsy if you can’t pull it off. This is too historical, too literary, too dreamlike, you must visually dive and immerse yourself into that universe to feel it. People, that was a sorry idea. The director, and I don’t even care what his name is, is of no Dogville caliber. Dogville was good, very good, in fact. But here, not only does this staged stage often look ridiculous, it completely disturbed my suspension of disbelief. How frustrating. All I was seeing were these little actors in rehearsal, in this insistently artificial and irritating theatrical setting. I wanted to forget it’s not real! What’s the point of watching such a movie otherwise? This Karenina is like a weird sort of musical where people don’t sing and all that remains are these dressed-up clowns running around.
I also found the casting very mixed. First, the good ones. Domhnall Gleeson, wonderful casting choice and acting! Intense in the right measure. Matthew MacFadyen, excellent. Aaron Johnson did a nice job. Now, the main women were lacking except Kelly Macdonald. And since I wasn’t in the greatest mood, after having my suspension of disbelief attacked again and again, Keira Knightley, whom I usually like even when I don’t like her so much, also bothered me. So much so that her teeth, which make her face go from being “Hollywood very beautiful” and sink to “oh, no! please,” stood out in their glaring disarrayed intensity in every shot where they are displayed. And I didn’t think she displayed much charisma, even though her acting was all right. I’m going to see if I can watch at least a bit of the 1940’s version of this movie. Because that’s the kind of actress (40s and 50s) that was needed here. This is Tolstoy! You need that dramatic punch and it needs to come from the main actress. Current celebrities are usually too glib. They don’t have that power, they aren’t idolized and mythologized in the same way as those ultra-glamorous stars of the past. It’s gone, the era is gone. And we can feel it right away.
The clothes were dashing and glorious, as expected, and as they could be no less than. But the script? Excuse me? Wikipedia fawns over the novel quoting idiot after idiot saying this is the best novel ever written. Either Stoppard mangled the original – quite possible – or the problem originates with Tolstoy. In any case, the script writing is one sorry affair. Lackluster, amateurish, doesn’t get rolling right, like a bus that keeps slowing down when you want it to go and it’s quite annoying. Oh, now it comes to me. The idiot is a playwright. So he probably had the bright idea of the stage, given that he can’t write for the screen. Let us do a little research: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/sep/02/tom-stoppard-anna-karenina-tolstoy
So it wasn’t Stoppard, it was the director who was the idiot. Anyways…
So far, I basically only liked one thing of all the theatrical “cleverness” the director tried to apply here: it’s when all the people in the ballroom are frozen until the couple waltzes past them and then they come to life. That was very nice. And the choreography was beautiful for that waltz (waltz? don’t know what that is), the one each partner keeps kind of twirling their arms in matching little movements. I had never seen that before. Lovely, absolutely.
Oh! Yes, one more thing. You know what bothered me as well? They spoke (British) English. It needed to be Russian. Now I know that’s asking more than is usually permissible, but it would have added more of the feel that was lacking. The whole novel, author, theme is so Russian. You know, you’ve seen this before. Burton and violet eyes speaking old-fashioned English instead of Latin and Egyptian in Cleopatra. It is jarring and quite funny at times. Or, like once, when I went to this Indian restaurant and the owners who looked very Indian (dark skinned, the face, the hair, etc.), opened their mouths and started to speak flawless French with no accent. Funniest thing ever. So, as long as we are complaining about the film, next time make it in Russian. I’ll happily read the subtitles. But I want that Russian gut feeling.