Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

on April 04, 1997 by Kim Williamson
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   This Bernard Rose adaptation of Tolstoy's tragic novel opens with uncertain visuals (wolves chasing the agrarian hero Levin across frozen land seem to be loping along) but assured sonics: the wolves growling, ice cracking, a bear roaring. This is, the sounds tell us, to be a look inside the world's miseries. Like its opening, "Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina" is half-successful.
   Both the book and the film tell two narratives: That of the despairing Levin, who leaves society behind and finds salvation working the lands of his rural estate with his similarly transformed wife, the princess Kitty ("The Crow: City of Angels'" Mia Kirshner); and the central story, that of the wife Anna ("Braveheart's" Sophie Marceau) who, unhappy with her marriage to the wealthy but older Karenin (James Fox), has a passionate affair with the dashing officer Count Vronsky ("GoldenEye's" Sean Bean).
   In speeding through Tolstoy's massive work, the Icon production does only partial justice to either. Levin's ennui, Anna's despondency and Vronsky's military commitment to doing what's right are not even sketched, leaving their narrative arcs broken at the beginning. As Anna, Marceau--despite a remanent French accent that wanders in--gives fire to her romance and later brokenheartedness with Vronsky, but she lacks the hauteur for the fall. Similarly, Bean has the requisite chin, but not the regal reserve to make Vronsky's thematically effective. As Levin, the gap-toothed Molina has his pastoral soul but doesn't fully transmit it due to a lack of screen time--a fate that likewise keeps Kirshner, who early on seems a character in a 19th-century "Clueless," from delivering the second half of her story. When at tale's end Anna meets her fate under the locomotive's wheels, the audience feels some tragedy, but with the suspicion that the train arrived ahead of schedule. Starring Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean, Alfred Molina and Mia Kirshner. Directed and written by Bernard Rose. Produced by Bruce Davey. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements and some sensuality/nudity. Running time: 108 min
Tags: Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean, Alfred Molina and Mia Kirshner. Directed and written by Bernard Rose. Produced by Bruce Davey. A Warner Bros. release. Drama, justice, military, gap-toothed, train
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