Like the sainted Karenin himself, this is an easy film to respect but a tough one to like.
Director Joe Wright and Script writer Tom Stoppard have taken the magic realist approach to AK - most of the film takes place within an endlessly plastic, unfolding theatre. So for example, as the scenery rises and falls, Oblonsky's office of pirouetting bureaucrats gives way to a St Petersburg street scene, to a restaurant and to a formal dinner in quick succession.
Levin's ascent above the stage into the rafters where the poor live to see his ailing revolutionary of a brother is a great touch. Best of all, the horse race scene where Anna 'falls' publically' takes place in spectacular fashion on stage while the cast watch from the audience.
It not only looks amazing, but it never lets you forget the double artificiality of both fiction and aristocratic Russian life. Levin's rural scenes - the most didactic in the book - are unsuprisingly shot much more naturalistically. An escape from artifice?
What the film really needed to complement this was inspired casting - a central love triangle equal to the story - and encouragement to emote enough to be heard amid the tricksiness of the story. But Keira Knightly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Jude Law, while not disgracing themselves, just don't grab the film by the emotional scruff of the neck and make it live amid all this cleverness.
AK can only enhance Joe Wright's reputation as a director, but it's not a film to remember beyond that.