I can’t over-emphasize how enraged I am about N.Y Times critic Manohla Dargis having called Joe Wright‘s Anna Karenina “a travesty with a miscast Keira Knightley” that is “tragic only in its conception and execution”…God! This is an outrageously stingy and dismissive and short-sighted thing to say, and to call Knightley miscast when she in fact has given one of her most flat-on exhilarating performances (and I’m saying this having been bothered by her acting in years past) is…is…I feel like slamming my fist into a refrigerator.
(l. to r.) Manohla Dargis, Joe Wright, Keira Knightley
Dargis is basically saying that Wright’s decision to present Leo Tolstoy‘s 19th Century tragedy as a “play”, initially set inside a theatre but opening up into sound-stage sets and outdoor backdrops, was a huge mistake. In fact Wright’s decision to pull the plug on historical realism was an act of major artistic courage, especially since he didn’t choose this mad-Stravinski approach until Karenina was a couple of weeks into pre-production. Wright could have done the usual-usual and that Karenina would have gotten the usual-usual reactions, but he manned up and decided to go all Powell-Pressburger and Ken Russell and then Dargis comes along and calls his film an effing “travesty”?
That really and truly stinks. I’ve admired Manohla for many years, and I just feel appalled.
Sasha Stone is fond of saying that online columnists and critics aren’t the real deal, and that the real brahmins and gurus are the critics working for major established print orgs. To hell with that. Manohla Dargis is a heavyweight, agreed, but she doesn’t “know” any more than I do. She doesn’t have some kind of elite N.Y. Times enzyme in her bloodstream that gives her special eyes. She’s just a critic who knows what she knows, and who writes like a champ. I’ve been around as long as she has and then some, and I’m saying here and now that her opinion doesn’t count any more than mine or Sasha’s or Kris Tapley‘s or Eric Kohn‘s or anyone else with any hard-won, day-to-day cred.
And in the case of Anna Karenina, she’s hit a “wrong” gusher that compares to the one that James Dean lucked into in Giant. What she wrote is needlessly cruel and brash and lacking the compassion and respect that any fair-minded critic should bring to any act of creative daring. There is no such thing as a film critic being “right” or “wrong”, of course, but Manohla’s Karenina comments come awfully damn close.