For fans of Tolstoy and his classic tale of love and woe, "Anna Karenina," get ready for a presentation that is nontraditional to say the least.
While rich in costuming and scope, director Joe Wright delivers the core of Tom Stoppard's screenplay as if a play, unfolding in a huge theater utilizing everything from the auditorium, the stage, the rafters, catwalks and rigging. A little jarring at first, this technique works beautifully and, without even realizing it, you're maneuvered in and out of the theater to train stations, grand ballrooms and Russian landscapes.
Keira Knightley perfectly steps into the role of Anna, who is married to the Russian aristocrat and government minister, Alexei Karenin. Alexei is not warm or effusive, but is proper, honorable and kind. Jude Law, while not flashy, delivers this complex character to perfection.
Set in the 1870s, Anna sets out from St. Petersburg to Moscow for a visit with her brother and his wife, Stiva and Dolly Oblonsky. Matthew Macfadyen and Kelly McDonald step into the roles of this couple trying to deal with Stiva's infidelity, and Anna intends to facilitate reconciliation. But, when Anna catches the eye of the dashing young military officer, Alexei Vronsky, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, both end up on an irreversible path of passion and pain.
Everyone associated with the young couple can't help but get ensnared in the affair and everyone pays a price. But none more than Anna and her longsuffering husband. Watching Law portray this decent, tortured soul who endures each of Anna's devastating confessions is breathtaking. Knightley will rightfully receive accolades, but Jude Law is simply amazing.
Another highlight in the casting is Macfadyen, as Stiva, who gives us most of the rare humorous moments in the film and is delightfully flawed. Tolstoy fans know how complex this story is and how many love stories are in play. Each can't be examined here, but the treatments of the relationships between Kostya and Kitty and Nikolai and his forbidden lover are excellent.
Multi-layered, rich in texture and innovative in presentation, this is Tolstoy for a new era and new generation. "Anna Karenina" is more than two hours long, it's rated R and I'm giving it 3 ½ stars.