[This is a re-post of my review from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Anna Karenina opens today in limited release.]
Joe Wright is a gifted director. His direction is daring, inventive, captivating, and unforgettable. But that doesn’t make him a great director. A great director finds a way to take the material he’s given and bring it to its maximum potential. Joe Wright doesn’t elevate his movies; he exceeds them. Pride and Prejudice and Hanna are marvelous, but Atonement and The Soloist are terrible. Granted, any director can only do so much with a script he’s given, but Wright seems content to leave his poor stories in the dust so that we can sit in awe at his bold direction like the long take of Dunkirk in Atonement or the musical colors in The Soloist. In his new film, Anna Karenina, Wright has once again blown past his story by using a melodrama to wrap his fascinating framing device rather than the other way around. Anna Karenina is a wonder to behold, but it leaves you wondering what you’re holding.