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dir Joe Wright
scr Tom Stoppard
prd Tim Bevan, Paul Webster
with Keira Knightley, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Jude Law, Matthew Macfadyen, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Ruth Wilson, Emily Watson, Michelle Dockery, Holliday Grainger
release UK 7.Sep.12, US 16.Nov.12
12/UK Focus 2h10
A chillt marriage: Kaw and Knightley
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Wright and Stoppard take an askance approach to Leo Tolstoy's classic novel, giving the story a theatrical spin that augments the setting and brings out the characters' feistiness. The icy approach drags in the second half, but it's consistently lush and often thrilling.
In 1870s Moscow, the married aristocrat Anna (Knightley) is visiting her brother Oblonsky (Macfadyen) when she runs into young Count Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson), who's in town to propose to Kitty (Vikander), sister of Oblonsky's long-suffering wife (Macdonald). But Anna distracts Vronsky, and everyone notices. Back home in St Petersburg with her husband Alexei (Law), Anna can't get Vronsky out of her mind. And it doesn't help that Vronsky follows her home, where their mutual attraction is far too obvious. As whispering gossip grows, Anna must make a decision about her future.
In a parallel plot, we also meet Levin (Gleeson), a wealthy farmer rebuffed by Kitty when she thought Vronsky would propose. His open-hearted earthiness contrasts with the cold upper-class urbanites. This subplot is moving partly because it's the only part of the film that doesn't take place in a theatre. Everyone but Levin is like a puppet whose movements are determined by the society around them.
This is the key theme of an ambitious story that encompasses love, jealousy, faith and fidelity. So it's intriguing that Stoppard has plunked the the characters in a theatre big set pieces taking place on stage, in the wings, in the audience and in the balconies. Seamus McGarvey's bravura camerawork carries us through each sequence, with sumptuous sets and costumes and Dario Marianelli's lavish Russian-influenced score. In other words, it looks drop-dead gorgeous, and it has the meaty subtext to back it up.
Knightley holds it together as a character whose irrationality gives her strength. Her interaction with Law is packed with intriguing edges. Macfadyen, Macdonald and Williams all have terrific scenes, and Gleeson is thoroughly engaging in the film's most emotional role. Oddly, Taylor-Johnson is the most passive character, haplessly drifting through an epic romance without ruffling a hair on his pretty head. Although this is deliberate, because Anna's inexplicable passion is what this story is about. And after her ordeal we feel more like survivors than moviegoers.
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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