Thursday, 20 September 2012

Film Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Tom Stoppard
Stars: Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson

A film as good as Anna Karenina would stand out from the crowd in most years, but in a year as poor as 2012 has been so far, Joe Wright’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic cautionary tale is far and away one of the year’s crowning cinematic achievements.

The film is a triumph on nearly every level which is a comment I rarely bestow on modern films. The most impressive element of the film is the vision Joe Wright has taken to ensure his film is not just another costume drama and the visuals are truly stunning throughout; it is a film that echoes other art forms like dance, painting, and theatre. When the characters dance, the camera flows between them like another dancer; when two lovers seek solitude in a field, we are watching a moving painting. Moreover, the film takes place on a stage but is not a play. Wright allows his characters to ‘be on stage’ as the story never feels outlandish but very contained (within the confines of the stage), focusing on the characters and story without relying on the stunning visuals alone to carry it through. When the sets slide and fold away as one scene moves to the next, I was taken away into the story like no other film this year; Wright draws attention to the medium of film in the first half as the majesty of Anna Karenina’s surrounding and exploits begin for the first time, but he is wise enough and knows his art well enough to drop this technique once the story turns darker and Anna’s life begins to fall apart. This is not a film which takes an idea and runs it into the ground; it is the mark of a true director in control of his film. Such a rare treat and one which deserves to be recognised at next year’s Academy Awards.

Anna Karenina is also a master class in set design, costume, art direction, and above all, photography. The film’s Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey shows impeccable skill in lighting across the entirety of the film and each frame could be a work of art if it were printed and framed. There is one standout sequence which takes place at a ball which is my scene of the year in 2012 to date; the camera work, costume, choreography, and acting all combine to not only delight the audience with a visual spectacle, but also they drive the story forward at a crucial point whilst doing it in the most spectacular way. The scene is cinematic perfection.

The film’s cast is excellent throughout and is lead by Keira Knightley (in the titular role) and Jude Law, but everyone deserves a mention for no one puts in a bad performance or sleepwalks through a role having done it countless times before. Yet again, another reason to cherish this film. That is not to say the film should sweep the acting awards come the awards season, but any nomination will be well deserved.

Anna Karenina is my number one film of 2012 and is by far and away the most enjoyable experience I have had as a lover of film and all that makes it a director’s medium. If you love film, see this any chance you get.

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