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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012

Anna Karenina

Giving It Up For Love

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Never at a loss for words, Tolstoy wrote massive novels on weighty subjects of love and war. Hollywood has always been tempted by his tomes and their prestige, but has fumbled in translating the Russian novelist to film. The results have often been ponderous, as if there was too much reality between his covers to be compressed into a movie.

Joe Wright (Atonement) sidesteps the weight of Tolstoy’s realism in his Anna Karenina adaptation, which opens with a pit orchestra tuning up and the groan of rising stage curtains. Parts of his Karenina transpire behind a proscenium arch, complete with footlights and stage hands wheeling out furniture, yet the concept is not fully followed throughout the film. Although Wright’s hybrid works in spots, by the end his compression of Tolstoy’s story of infidelity, romantic obsession and the precarious legal status of women comes across like an opera with great costumes but no music. The best scenes recall the silly surrealism of Fellini and the worst, the banal irony of Baz Luhrmann. Keira Knightley is attractive as Anna, the woman who gave up everything for love.