Sometimes called "the greatest novel ever written," Leo Tolstoy's epic love story takes place in Imperial Russia during the 1870s. As it begins, Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) arrives in provincial Moscow from sophisticated St. Petersburg to comfort her distraught sister-in-law Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) after Anna's brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyan) has been blatantly unfaithful.
On the train, she meets Countess Vronsky (Olivia Williams). Sparks fly when she encounters the countess' son, strutting cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Soon, even her staid, influential husband, Alexei Karenin (Jude Law), is aware of their scandalous flirtation. Risking not only her aristocratic reputation in society but access to her beloved, 8-year-old son, Anna impetuously embarks on a dangerous affair, resulting in her pregnancy. Meanwhile, Oblonsky's best friend, a gentleman farmer named Levin (Domhall Gleeson, son of actor Brendan Gleeson), is smitten with Dolly's younger sister, vacuous Princess Kitty (Alicia Vikander), who only has eyes for philandering Count Vronsky.
In this bizarre version, adapted by Tom Stoppard ("Shakespeare in Love") and directed by Joe Wright ("Pride and Prejudice," "Atonement"), the tragedy unfolds in a huge, magnificent theater. As the curtain rises, the performance commences and various players fall in and out of love -- with little moral meaning. On stage, backstage and on catwalks, they change partners and pirouette, always self-consciously aware of the impression they're making. Dario Marianelli's elaborate ballroom dance numbers are intricately choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and credit the dazzling costumes to Jacqueline Durran with Ivana Primorac contributing hair and makeup design.
But because one is constantly aware of this hollow, exquisite artifice, it's difficult to evoke any emotional connection to the indiscretions of the various characters. So what's left is the opulence, providing a feast for the eyes but starvation for the soul. In addition, the plodding pacing is tedious, affording time to wonder how interesting it would be if Jude Law were to play brash Vronsky with an older actor cast as Anna's cuckolded husband.
On the Granger Movie Gauge, "Anna Karenina" is an intellectual, overwrought, highly stylized 6, a superficial spectacle.