Anna Karenina Is Beautiful, Heartless

Critics agree it's beautiful and daring, but have mixed feelings overall

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 16, 2012 1:23 PM CST

(Newser) – Looking for something a little more brainy than Twilight this weekend? Well, a new adaptation of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is also hitting theaters, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley, but critics are divided on the result. Everyone agrees it looks great, but many believe it lacks heart. Here's a taste of what people are saying:

  • "You know there is something seriously wrong with Anna Karenina when you start rooting for the train," writes Mick LaSalle at the San Francisco Chronicle. Wright "made the movie he wanted to make, and he made it well," but he took such pains to distance his audience from the proceedings that we never connect emotionally. "The result is a beautiful disaster."
  • It's a "dazzling but only partly coherent confection," writes Andrew O'Hehir of Salon, who's impressed by "how much of Tolstoy’s spirit they actually pack into the damn thing." Knightley has evolved beyond the "upper-crust ingénue type with a bone structure made for the movie screen" she started her career as; her Anna "is a complicated, powerful, and vulnerable character."

  • Wright's conceit of staging Karenina like a stage play is "a dazzling gambit, filmed with confidence and craft," writes Ty Burr of the Boston Globe. "It also wears out its welcome in about five minutes." The problem is that Wright—who's "on record as saying naturalism is for sissies, more or less"—can't just cut loose like, say, Baz Luhrmann in Moulin Rouge. "He's a tasteful revolutionary."
  • AO Scott at the New York Times thought it was "brilliant," compressing Tolstoy's "loose and baggy monster of a novel" into "a frantic and sublime opera." But even he admits that it lacks "the deep, resonant note of tragedy" that would take it from very good to great. "You may be dazzled … but really, you should feel as if you had been hit by a train."

This film publicity image released by Focus Features shows Keira Knightley in a scene from "Anna Karenina."   (AP Photo/Focus Features, Laurie Sparham, File)
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A trailer for 'Anna Karenina.'   (YouTube)

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