The film sports some good performances and is nice to look at at times, but it’s ultimately both spectacularly ill-conceived and deathly boring.
Knightley plays the title role, a 19th century Russian socialite married to a government official (Jude Law, made up, unconvincingly, to look like a pathetic middle-aged man.) She soon finds herself ostracized after embarking on an affair with soldier Vronsky (played by “Kick Ass” star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, wearing sideburns and a mustache that he looks like he was barely able to grow.) Meanwhile, young Konstantin (Harry Potter veteran Domhnall Gleeson) tries to earn the hand of Kitty (Alicia Vikander)
An adaptation of Tolstoy’s 1877 novel directed by Wright (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement”), ‘Karenina’ is one of those films that’s set in Russia, in which every character speaks English with an English accent. The film was written by screenwriter/playwright Tom Stoppard, and like just about every major Stoppard work save for “Shakespeare in Love,” it’s inaccessible, seemingly for inaccessibility’s sake.
The big Stoppard touch is that the film is staged as a sort of stage-play-within-the-movie, and the camera periodically zooms back and we see a stage. It’s a very strange choice, which never makes a lick of sense.
Sure, there’s some pretty photography, by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey; we get another of Wright’s trademark long Steadicam shots. But ultimately, this is a deadly-dull affair, without much excitement or sexiness. And the ending feels like it’s never going to end.
I expect to forget within a day or two that I ever saw this movie. The one and only thing of value I got out of it is that I now know the literary origin of Robin Scherbatsky’s last name.