Anna Karenina vs Killing Them Softly

Kenny D November 30, 2012 0
Anna Karenina vs Killing Them Softly

We’re getting close to awards season. That means that every decent drama that studios have been holding on to for the entire year are being released in droves. Just in the past few weeks, we’ve got Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, etc. This week we have a Brad Pitt gangster film that sounds like it was named after a Fugees song and an adaptation of a Tolstoy novel I wouldn’t read if you held a gun to my head.

Let’s start off with that one shall we?

Anna Karenina
showtime showdown, aaron johnson, kick ass, jude law, keira knightley, period pieces

I had no previous knowledge of this story before going in, other than hearing it was the most unforgettable love story in all of fiction. What classic novel doesn’t have that exact stamp on it? I can think of several books that claim the same thing: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, Romeo & Juliet, and Hop on Pop.

Keira Knightly plays Anna, a young aristocratic wife and mother living in late 19th century Russia. She is married to Alexis Karenin (Jude Law), but they have a tepid relationship at best. Everything changes when she meets and is romanced by a young russian soldier named Vronsky (Aaron Johnson). The two start a salacious affair that is noticed by every gossiper in town and worried family and confidants. As the truth becomes known to Alexis, he gives Anna the choice of forgetting her adulterous ways to avoid social drama, or to be with her misteress (boy mistress?) and live on the street.

Doesn’t that just sound so romantic?

I typically don’t have the patience for period pieces. But from the start of this film, you could tell the director, Joe Wright, has something else up his sleeve. Most of the film is played out on and around a stage. Curtains rise, actors enter a scene, fake backdrops appear, and just when you start to believe they are in a real outdoor setting, the camera spins around and you see the stage lights. Very risky and very interesting. And it completely pays off. In one scene, the best character (IMHO), Levin, hastily leaves a party and goes upstairs. But on the stage the upstairs is in the rafters and he can still look down on the party, even though it feels like two separate environments entirely. This may all sound confusing. To clear it up, you feel like you are walking through a play as the actors perform it in a frenzy and orchestral members are performing as they walk from scene to scene.

For the first 30 minutes I was floored. I absolutely loved it. I didn’t care that I couldn’t remember who was Vronsky and who was Bronsky. Wright deserves serious credit for how unique this film is. But then I hit a period piece wall and realized I was in for a very depressing angst-ridden love story. The main problem with “Karenina” is that most of the characters were entirely unlikable. I did not hope for Anna to run off with the soldier, nor did I feel too much empathy for Karenin. The characters that brightened the film were Levin, played by Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley) and his love interest Kitty, played by Alicia Vikander. If there was a great love story somewhere in this film, it was theirs.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with this movie. It was creative and original, more than I can say for most movies this year. If there was a flaw in the acting, it came from Aaron Johnson, more known from his role as “Kick Ass” rather than a Russian literary character. The real problem here comes from Tolstoy’s story itself. There just isn’t an emotional connection at all. Beautiful, but not emotional. This movie gets a rental.

Killing Them Softly
brad pitt, brad pitt movie, ray liotta, crime movie, gangster, hitman movie
“So you hated the World War Z trailer too?”

This will be short because it’s late and I don’t have much to say about this movie. Essentially two small-time crooks rob a high stakes card game. They hope to get away scott free and put the blame on Ray Liotta, because he robbed the game several years earlier. Then the hitman, Brad Pitt, comes in to town and is hired to take out everyone responsible. So he does.

Just imagine everything you love about gangster movies: the high life, the money, the women, and take that all away and you’d have this movie. It is truly a minimalist gangster movie. There is some scattered dialogue that provides humor between James Gandolfini and Brad Pitt, but even then, that’s all there is. Just talking.

There is killing, but it seems more like an afterthought. It does get bloody, but you just don’t care. I feel like I’m being too hard on this movie, but it’s only a 96 minute movie that felt much more than 2 hours. I’ve recently seen Lincoln (also a talky movie) and I wish that movie was longer, compared to this one, I just couldn’t wait for it to end. There is a great line at the end of the movie, but all it does is try to justify the annoying presence of television footage of George W Bush and Barack Obama giving apologetic/empowering speeches. Why did this movie have to take place in 2008? To say that the economy is bad for everyone in America, even hitmen? Yawn.

I hate to say this, because I was quite looking forward to this, but skip this one.

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