My father’s side of the family traces itself back to Russia. I remember my parents had an old shoebox filled with thick postcard sized photographs of my father’s relatives. All of the pictures were sepia toned, showing somber relatives dressed in heavy clothing. I would periodically go through the photos imaging what those relatives’ lives were like back then. There was one picture in particular that I liked of my uncle. He was bundled in a big fur coat and oversized shearling hat that was pulled down low to his eyebrows, as he was standing up in a reindeer drawn sled. While watching this lush looking film I was reminded of those old photographs. Each scene in this movie was presented in such a way that I felt I was paging through an aristocratic family’s photo album. Adding in the beautiful musical score only made the experience more pleasing. Based on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, the story set in 19th century Russia was about the life of Anna Karenina, wife of prominent Aleksei Karenin, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes franchise, Enemy at the Gates). High society was spun into a frenzy when Anna, played by Keira Knightly (A Dangerous Method, The Duchess), was swept up into a torrid affair with the well known Count Vronsky, played by Aaron Taylor (The Illusionist, Nowhere Boy). Keira has a gift for portraying emotionally distraught characters. Jude Law was excellent in his role, showing a restrained maturity. As for Aaron playing Count Vronsky, it was not convincing to me. It might have been because he looked too young or just did not have the acting skills to pull off the character. From the trailers I anticipated a classic story blossoming into a breath taking movie experience. Sadly, the movie was a big disappointment for me. Several times I caught myself beginning to nod off; I was bored for a good portion of the film. The theater within a theater filming made for a pretty picture; however, it made the story choppy. I would have had a better time getting that frail shoebox filled with family photos and going through the pictures again.
2 1/2 stars
His novels were not the only place where drama took place. In this movie, Leo Tolstoy’s personal life was filled with substantial drama. Played magnificently by Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), the majority of this fiery drama occurred between Tolstoy and his wife of 43 years, the Countess Sofya, played with electrifying fire by Helen Mirren (Arthur, The Tempest). Determined to prevent her husband from changing his will, relinquishing his copyrights and property to the Russian people, Sofya enlisted a confederate in recently appointed assistant to her husband, Valentin played by James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement). The acting was superb in this movie, as the dialog had a fine accompaniment in the musical score. Completing the movie’s feel were the beautiful set pieces, with the attention to detail; I felt as if I had been transported back to Tolstoy’s estate, to witness the final years of this great writer’s life.
3 1/3 stars — DVD