The film is beautifully directed by Joe Wright. The guy has a knack for visuals, and in this film, really outdoes himself by setting the story almost entirely in an old theater that emphasizes the stage that the characters find themselves living their lives on. In a single shot we watched as the actors move about and the scenery changes around them. It can take a moment to get used to, but once you settle in, it is quite magnificent to watch.
The story, an adaption of the classic Leo Tolstoy epic, is set in Russian high-society in the 1800’s, and follows its titular character (Keira Knightly, in one of her best performances) as she wrestles with discontentment in her marriage (her husband, Karenin, played dutifully by Jude Law), and eventually falls in love (or lust) with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, with a distracting mustache). There are several other side stories displaying different facets of love, the best of a farm owner and his love for a princess.
The screenplay works a lot in, but begins to drag in the third act. Maybe that is because we enjoy watching the beginnings of love, the glances, the anticipation of connection, but when presented with the consequences of that love, it can be, well, depressing. Or maybe its because the film lingers too long on those consequences; as if it wants the audience to wish for the final outcome before it finally delivers it. I’ll let you decide.
The cinematography, sets, costumes, music are all in top form. The film is a visual treat, even when the story is beginning to drudge along. I don’t think this story can be told more creatively.
I do so love the meat of the film. The debate over the nature of love is beautifully played out amongst the contrasting stories and the collision of the characters. Is it enough to be infatuated? Is loyalty the best display of love? Should one choose a mate on reason alone? Can one stay faithful, suppressing desire? Does the film answer these questions? No, but its exploration is thought provoking, and has stayed with me since viewing, which is the mark of a good film. That it lingers too long in this debate is what keeps it from being great.