Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina

Thanks to my friend Julian who told me about the trailer via Twitter, I had forgotten that I was going to do a spotlight post on this film when I first picked up the novel. I still have not finished the Leo Tolstoy masterpiece, still stuck at about the halfway mark. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish it, it’s really quite a heavy book about Russian aristocratic society on top of the obvious tragic love story, but watching the trailer actually makes me think I shouldn’t give up on it, yet.

Before I get into the casting and overall thoughts on this adaptation, first check out the poster and the trailer below:

CASTING

Firstly, let me confess that I’m not exactly sold on Keira Knightley‘s casting. The trailer doesn’t exactly change my mind. In fact, I’m already bored looking at her here, I don’t know if I can watch two hours of her being gloom and doom, suffering in the name of love.

I wasn’t sure who I’d rather see in her place, but now I think perhaps Mélanie Laurent, the French actress who was in Inglourious Basterds and most recently in Beginners. She actually look like she could be Russian and she has that melancholy yet mysterious look about her. Plus she’s not as well-known as the pouty-mouthed Keira, which would’ve made it fresher. Alas, Joe Wright apparently loves working with the English actress, this will mark his third project with Knightley after Pride & Prejudice and Atonement.

Now, the casting of Aaron Johnson piqued my interest, he’s wowed me in a couple of things he’s done, particularly as young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy. At only 22, there’s something so sensual about this young man, such virility and vigor. But there’s also restlessness and unworldliness that he seems to be able to inhabit as Vronsky, which as you know in the book would lead to the downfall of their torrid romance. Not sure he pulls off the mustache look though, I’m just not fond of it and I find it quite distracting. Funny how reading it in the book is quite different than seeing the character on screen. I almost wish Wright would take creative liberty and forgo the mustache on Vronsky, I mean he’s taking a bunch of creative license on the story anyhow.

Now on to the wronged husband Alexei Karenin. In the book he’s described as not being much to look at, so initially I was baffled at Jude Law‘s casting. I mean he’s as far away from ‘ugly’ as you can get, in fact he’s perhaps one of the most beautiful man in the world, so props for the make-up people to actually make him look unattractive enough.

Interesting to see Keira’s Mr. Darcy, Matthew MacFadyen appearing as Anna’s brother, Oblonsky. Other notable British cast include Emily Watson, Olivia Williams and up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan’s son) as Levin, whose story parallel Anna’s in the book.

STORY

Anna Karenina is the quintessential doomed love story. A married woman falls in love with a dashing and wealthy calvary officer and must pay the price of being shunned by society for her actions.

What I find complex about the book is the double plot, as I mentioned above, the story of Anna & Vronsky and that of Constantin Levin. Naturally the film will focus more on Anna’s crumbling marriage and infidelity, so in a way it’s a simplification but digestible version of Tolstoy’s epic Russian saga. What I love about it is the rich characters and how Tolstoy create such complex and nuanced characters, there’s no simple hero/heroine or villain. In fact, Anna is a deeply flawed protagonist, at times it’s hard for me to root for her.

As much as I admire Tolstoy’s meticulous attention to detail, I also find it frustrating and overwhelming, I mean he’d go on and on Levin’s agricultural interest, all that details about 19th century farming is over-indulgent. Especially when the first intimate encounter between the two forbidden lovers is skipped over completely. Judging from the trailer though, we’ll likely see lots of heaving bosoms, longing glances and steamy trysts in this passionate adaptation. The screenplay is written by Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard who won Best Screenplay for Shakespeare in Love.

STYLE

Now this is one area this movie won’t be lacking. Even right from the opening sequence with the conductor directing a stage performance, we can expect a lush, lavish, and gorgeous movie that’ll transport us to 19th century Russia where everyone speaks with a British accent 😀 I love vintage train stations and surely there’ll be as many scenes set there as in various palatial locations.

The costume design and set pieces are beautiful to look at. Waif-looking Keira certainly wears the period costumes well and Wright knows how to light her and frame her in such a dramatic way. It reminds me a bit of Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence in terms of all that pent-up longing, and it makes heartache looks so appealing, ahah. I think Wright might give Baz Luhrmann a run for his money in the style department.

Overall Thoughts 

I was intrigued initially but this trailer doesn’t quite move me. I teared up every time I saw the Les Miserables trailer but not with this one, somehow Keira just leaves me cold. Even the poster with the words ‘AN EPIC STORY OF LOVE’ emblazoned under the two doomed lovers just seems so corny. Overselling it a bit? I mean, the only *epic* thing to me is the visuals. Perhaps I’m a bit fatigue from seeing all the costumed drama being released this year — The Great Gatsby, Les Miserables are also out around the Holiday season.

I do like this genre mind you, and I’m a fan of Joe Wright’s work [saves for the manipulative The Soloist], but this feels like too much style over substance, which is the same fear I have for the similarly opulent-themed Baz Luhrman movie that’s also based on a celebrated book. Granted Wright’s first two period dramas were highly acclaimed, so perhaps this one would follow in that footsteps? We shall see. But right now, I’m not sure I’d see this one on the big screen.


What say you, folks? Thoughts on this Anna Karenina adaptation, particularly on casting?

Weekend Roundup: HANNA review

I finally venture out into the theater after about a month of a lot of home cinema viewing. All the great reviews on HANNA got me really curious to check it out on opening weekend. It wasn’t powerful enough to defeat HOP in the box office, but managed to finish second with $12.4 million, which is nearly half its production budget. I was considering Soul Surfer as well, which is based on an inspirational true story on a young girl who overcame a shark attack through her strong belief in God. But as I had suspected, the RT consensus said it’s an amazing story that’s ‘drowned by waves of Hollywood cheese.’ I still might check it out on rental though. Oh, I also saw The Book of Eli, which will be reviewed at a later date.

HANNA

Hanna is a movie I’ve been curious about for quite a while, as I blogged about it last June. The cast alone is enough to get me to watch it, Saiorse Ronan is one of my top ten Irish actors, and Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana are two of my all time fave Aussie thespians. But after the trailer was released, I was sort of cool on it as the theme of a child assassin isn’t exactly hot on my must-see list. Yet, to say the title role a child assassin or killing machine is oversimplifying it.

The film opens with Hanna hunting a deer in a deep Finnish wilderness, letting the viewers right away of what kind of training the young protagonist is subjected to by her father, Erik Heller (Bana). Both of them live in a secluded cabin, with no modern amenities/technology nor any connection with the outside world for the past sixteen years. We know that for a measure so drastic, there has to be something huge that they’re preparing for or to survive against, but we’re not told why. The only thing we learn is that Erik has some ties to the CIA, and that their ‘nemesis’ that Erik ceaselessly warns Hanna about is Marissa Wiegler (Blanchett), a CIA officer.

Blanchett + Bana = Great Aussie Duo!

What I like about this film is its puzzle-like quality and how adept the filmmaker is in keeping the big picture under wraps and only revealing the mystery bit by bit, as we learn alongside Hanna what is happening around her and the reason she ‘exists.’ It’s an existential thriller at its core, which reminds me to the Bourne movies, without the shaky hand-held camera style that they’ve been known for.

Hanna w/ Sophie in one of her few ‘lighter’ parts of her tough journey

I personally am glad Joe Wright isn’t copying Paul Greengrass’ style though, but yet still able to create compelling suspenseful sequences that keep us in the edge-of-your-seat virtually the entire time. There are funny bits throughout, mostly during the time Hanna meets up with a free-spirited family vacationing in Morocco, with Sophie, the teenage girl who befriends Hanna, being the much-needed comic relief in the movie.

For those unfamiliar with the filmmaker, Wright is known for his period dramas Atonement and Pride & Prejudice, both of which I adore (hence their inclusion in my Cinematic Alphabet). He’s made a foray into modern drama with The Soloist, which I’m not too impressed with, but in his fourth feature film, Wright certainly proved he’s got the chops to be an action director. Known for his long tracking shots, such as this Dunkirk scene in Atonement, he did it again with Eric Bana‘s fight scene in the underground station. Armed with crafty and sharp cinematography, as well as the high-octane score by The Chemical Brothers, Wright created an exhilarating journey as we follow Hanna from the Polar Circle, through Morocco, Spain and finally Berlin where she’s supposed to reunite with her father.

Hanna isn’t exactly an ‘enjoyable’ fare, it’s not a ‘warm and fuzzy’ kind of movie, but the fast-paced chase is exhilarating and it’s got everything you want in a suspense film. What I enjoyed most is the performances, especially Ronan and Blanchett, the later never cease to amaze me with her acting prowess, she pulls off a Southern accent convincingly, but that’s only a small part in what makes her ruthless character believable. Bana is always watchable though I wish he had a bit more screen time with Blanchett, while the rest British supporting cast: Tom Hollander, Jason Flemyng and Olivia Williams are all good in their respective roles.

Ronan, who’s barely 17 years old, is the true revelation here in the title role. She certainly has what it takes to follow in Blanchett footsteps (she probably is there already) and has that ‘transformative’ acting quality about her that’s a sign of acting greatness, check out the photo of her in the movie and what she looks like in real life. She’ll undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with amongst young Hollywood, I look forward to more of her work. Sounds like she’d reunite with Wright for the third time in Leo Tolstoy adaptation Anna Karenina, and rumor has it Wright is courting James McAvoy to join as well, which would be terrific. [ed. note: Well it turns out she didn’t end up getting the role of Anna, Keira Knightley did instead]

All in all, Hanna is a smart thriller that would definitely satisfy fans of action films, but even if suspenseful thrillers aren’t your thing, it’s still worth a watch just for the cast.

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Well, what did you end up seeing this weekend? Or if you got to see HANNA, what are your thoughts on the film?