ANNA KARENINA (Joe Wright). 130 minutes. Opens Friday (November 30). See listing. Rating: NNN
After straight-on adaptations of Pride And Prejudice and Atonement, Joe Wright goes all high-concept in this Baz Luhrmannesque adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel, set for much of its sprawling action in an elegant theatre.
This allows for swift scene changes (and must have kept costs down) and, up to a point, makes sense thematically. After all, it stresses the artifice of 19th-century Russian high society and the culture of watching and gossiping that ultimately dooms the affair between married mom Anna (Keira Knightley) and her lover, Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
But the strategy isn't used consistently, mixing theatre interiors with actual exterior locations. (It was filmed partly in Russia.) And despite Tom Stoppard's clear screenplay, the gimmick ultimately distances us from the characters and their intersecting lives.
Still, it's a gutsy approach, and as Dario Marianelli's passionate score drives the action forward like a locomotive, the leads smoulder and set off angry sparks together while wearing one eye-popping outfit after another.
In a subplot that has often been downplayed in earlier adaptations, Domhnall Gleeson makes idealistic Tolstoy stand-in farmer Levin very sympathetic. But Jude Law steals the picture with his pinched yet dignified and very human portrayal of Anna's cuckolded husband.