If you’re making a movie that depends on style, well my friend, you gotta live or die by that style. Ride or die. Peddle to THE MAX!!! And various other platitudes that evoke extreme dedication, so on and so forth. You can’t just willy-nilly throw in all sorts of crazy ideas and steal different types of film making styles. Well, actually Quentin Tarantino does that just fine. But it takes a special kind of crazy to be Tarantino. Few directors can pull off a fucking stunt like him, Joe Wright, turns out, is not Quentin Tarantino.
You see, in Wright’s new film Anna Karenina, he sets up a VERY specific, admittedly cool, style flourish by having the a good chunk of the film take place on a stage. The entire movie is a play set in a theater. The streets of Moscow are backstage. The high society parties take place in front of an audience. And the sets shift and merge at a moment’s notice. Again, it’s all very pretty and very cool. The only problem is that Wright doesn’t stick with the idea that makes the film interesting.
So the story is all about this chick, named Anna…something. I forget the last name already. Anyway, Anna is stuck in a shitty marriage and starts banging this other dude. She gets her fuck on without any nudity, lame. And shit hits the fan and the husband’s feelings get hurt. But the plot is beside the point. This movie is 100% about how it was shot.
Wright really wants the audience to pay attention to how cool of a director he is. He’s basically a little kid going, “Look at me!!! Look at me!!! You don’t think I can turn dense Russian novel into a two hour film? Fuck you, I can, just look at me!!!!!!” I actually don’t begrudge him that. I like new things. Wright’s got a set of balls on him to make this movie. The problem is he doesn’t commit to it.
Toward the end of the film, the stage conceit is nearly completely abandoned. And there’s no logical thematic explanation for it. I’m sure we could argue for hours about Wright’s reasoning for this. But mostly it just seems like he got lazy and decided to shoot scenes outdoors instead of on a stage. It becomes hugely distracting, even more so when he decides to bring the stage back for the last couple of scenes.
In a lot of ways this all comes down to simple hubris. Joe Wright is and always has been an arrogant director. That famous tracking shot at Dunkirk in Atonement couldn’t have been made by anyone but an arrogant director. The jarringly edited fight scenes in Hannah weren’t made by a humble man either. It seems like the only reason Write decided to film Anna Karenina like a play is because, well, he could.
Tarantino can get away with being cocky and trying different styles because, well, he’s yet to make a bad film. Write has made two great films and three average ones. That’s not a great track record, really. Again, I’m glad he tried but maybe next time we can just show some tits and stop strutting around like a fucking peacock. Eh, Wright Old Boy?