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Anna Karenina

I was enthralled. It’s astounding to me that it’s not getting more attention. A bold, striking new vision from director Joe Wright—and I haven’t always been a fan. For instance, he knocked my socks off with his 2005 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice”, but I found very little to admire in 2007’s “Atonement”. “Anna Karenina” is so rich though, that it’s made me feel like I should give “Atonement” another shot—maybe I fumbled the ball there. Some day I’ll look again. In fact, it’s at this time of the season annually, that I’m watching so many films in such rapid succession that I often wonder if I’m being too tough on some and too soft on others. There’s no time to absorb and ponder as a critic. It’s all “done with that one…on to the next”. I’d love a good six months into the new year, before compiling the previous year’s top ten. But it just doesn’t work that way—as it is I’m a solid month later than the periodical professionals. Am I too high on the spell that “Anna Karenina” cast upon me? I don’t think so. It’s flamboyant, original and daring—and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It also contains the one component that makes those two other Joe Wright adaptations work in the case of one and almost succeed regarding the other. “Anna Karenina” and Joe Wright have Keira Knightley. And she’s breathtaking. She is absolutely, without question, old-time movie star gorgeous here. My heart would flutter whenever she appeared on-screen. The way she’s dressed, the way she’s lit, her manner, her poise—I think I’m in love. And she’s becoming a heck of an actress too. Let’s just ignore the existence of those pirate movies for the time being, and recall her largely ignored work in last year’s “A Dangerous Method” from David Cronenberg. She gyrated, she gesticulated, she grinded her teeth and groaned—and the critics cried foul. Too over-the-top was the mantra. “No way!”–I protested. I found it to be a finely tuned and quite mature performance—I’m not sure what they were watching. She’s only 27 years old, but she’s grown by leaps and bounds since we first really noticed her in 2002’s “Bend It Like Beckham” a full decade ago. She graces us with a sumptuous movie goddess performance in “Anna Karenina”. Am I blinded by Keira’s beauty on this one. Anything’s possible, I guess.

She does, however, have plenty of help. Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, the indispensable Shirley Henderson and, of course, Jude Law—it’s an accomplished and versatile cast. Also, the screenplay has been adapted by Tom Stoppard—who just happens to be a genius. And I never realized “Kick-Ass” was so freaking handsome. I didn’t even know it was young Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the dashing Count Vronsky until the movie was over. I mean, if we are to buy that the character of Anna falls head-over-heels with this guy based on looks alone—there’s never a doubt as to how. Form-fitting white uniforms and a shock of blond hair—they must be the most glamorous film couple of the year. It’s almost difficult to decide which one is prettier. I have no idea how much or how little this version of “Anna Karenina” is faithful to the Tolstoy classic. I’ve never read it, so you won’t be reading a purist’s dissection here. But hear this: the decision by the director to frame this film as if it is a theatre piece was a fantastic move. It breathes a unique life into the work in areas where I could see it otherwise falling flat in clumsier hands. Wright makes this project sing with his innovative stroke. Performers walk out of a room only to find themselves off to the wings of a stage with hanging ropes, planks, and hanging lights—yet carrying on as if none of it is there. I found it intoxicating. An unfulfilling marriage, doomed love affairs, tragic turns of events…we’ve seen all of this stuff before. It took Joe Wright to have the vision to carry this is a new direction. He found the way, and in so doing created one of the finest films of 2012. Most mainstream critics missed the boat on this one, but I’m on board and I’m throwing you a line. Don’t miss it.         Grade:  A


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