The best, most interesting opportunity of my life had to have been last year when I met Joe Wright, the director of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement (and two of my most favorite movies). I was volunteering at my school paper when I was offered to opportunity to watch Joe Wright’s new movie Hanna WITH Joe Wright and then conduct a short interview with him the next day. How could I possibly pass that up?
Admittedly, he wasn’t in a very pleasant mood… though I can imagine that in the grand scheme of things, you’re probably not going to be as nice to a college journalist than to a national news anchor throughout the tedious interview circuit. Regardless, I left the interview disheartened because I was sure that within our 17 minute chat (which awkwardly took place on a waiting room couch) would hardly have enough content to create an entire interview. What upset me most was that I hardly scratched the surface of who he was. Despite his curmudgeonly British attitude, there was so much genius beneath the surface that I wish I could’ve gotten a glimpse of. The only time that his face showed a hint of excitement was when I asked about his connection to the Anna Karenina rumors. He actually divulged a lot and informed me that he was currently adapting the 800 page piece of Russian literature into script form with an Oscar-winning writer. He told me that Kiera Knightly was set to play Anna, and that Jude Law, Aaron Johnson and Saorirse Ronan were all signed to the project a well. (you can read my article here) As soon as I heard this, I knew I had to get a start on reading the 800 pages right away. And because I could now match the crazy Russian names to pretty actor faces, the 800 pages was an easy feat that I accomplished throughout that summer.
It has been almost a year and a half since that interview and Anna Karenina finally came to Seattle theaters for the Thanksgiving weekend. I went in knowing very little about the movie and had only seen the trailer once, so my expectations were unassuming and I went in with fresh eyes. Frankly, what I saw was not what I expected at all.
True to Wright’s history in period pieces, Anna Karenina was decadent and pretty. The costumes were lush, the settings were extravagant and the camera movement was fluid and graceful. I expected this much. And though movie was set on stage, as if audiences were watching a play, I couldn’t help but feel that this style was a direct rip off of Phantom of the Opera or what Les Mis will be like come December. But Anna Karenina wasn’t a play. And in my understanding, there wasn’t an allusion to plays in the novel at all. But that was how the film was created, for the actors to feel disjointed and detached, as if we were watching actors act… rather than become the character. These people felt like empty puppets, rather than real characters. Did they do this purposefully? Was there an issue on set? Were the actors not up for the challenge?
The first and foremost objection was to the casting of Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden) for the role of Oblonsky and Jude Law as the role of Alexi. These roles should’ve obviously been switched. Law plays the perfect jester and can act the fool successfully while Macfayden has proved that he can play the reserved, uptight role well… if not perfectly. While reading the book it never crossed my mind once that Law would play Anna’s husband… to me, he was always her brother. And suddenly watching these relationships on film felt incestuous and wrong.
Then comes Anna’s young lover, Aaron Johnson as the dashing Vronsky. Has anyone else forgotten Aaron’s real-life older woman drama? He’s married to a woman 23 years older than him… who also directed him in her movie when he was only 17. They have two children together. And as someone who is two days older than him (I just checked IMDB), this is totally gross to me. But then to go and play your real life role in a movie is just weird. Does he fancy himself a real-life character from a Russian novel?
As I was reading the novel, it was the story of Levin and Kitty that I was most drawn to. In the film I also found myself most drawn to Dromhnall Gleeson’s Levin as the most magnetic and genuine character. But Kitty wasn’t MY Kitty. Joe Wright himself told me that Saoirse Ronan was going to be Kitty! Who was this girl? Pretty, yes. Graceful, absolutely. But Kitty was supposed to be a dove and though Alicia Vikander was pretty and lithe, she didn’t have that innocent fragility about her. I was expecting that bright blue-eyed china doll face and instead got a pouty ballerina.
Finally, it was Knightly that I was most disappointed in. After all, she was the movie’s namesake. She was playing one of the most influential characters from a novel, ever. But there was this distance with her and the character that I’ve never felt with her before. Anna had demons… she was a dynamic woman with erratic temperaments and jealous rages. But for me, Knightly never became one with the character and she never felt those feeling the rages and the passions. For what could’ve very easily been an Oscar-grabbing role, I feel as if the opportunity was lost.
Overall, the movie was visually pleasing. But in the end, the swish of skirts and the blindingly beautiful mise en scene couldn’t hide what the movie was lacking. If you haven’t read the novel, you will likely feet lost in the complex web of lovers and families. If you have read the novel, you will mostly likely disapprove of the novel to film execution and lackluster performances. I was so disappointed… I was truly convinced that this was going to be one of the best films of the year.