I’ve been writing a lot about film adaptations lately, so I was thrilled to stumble onto this very cool series at the Guardian which each week is turning a critical eye on a new famous film adaptation. The latest is on Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1986 version of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.
Rick writes in wanting to know how he can lay the groundwork for a big-screen version of a bestselling novel.Does anybody know if (or how to find out if) someone has the motion picture rights to Leon Uris' novel Trinity? Any help would be appreciated. ThanksI can't tell you all how pleased I was to see this question in my inbox. I was beginning to worry that the year I spent getting coffee and wearing a jaunty headset at a Hollywood agency had gone to waste. Luckily in between my important duties as a glorified (and grossly under-compensated) secretary, I was able to glean some actual knowledge about the entertainment industry. Even more luckily, I will most likely never work in said industry again. As I was saying, though, there are ways to find out if anyone owns the film rights to a particular book, and if so, who. It basically involves persistent phone calls in which each person you talk to tells you to call another person, who tells you to call another person, and so on. And while I am not, at the moment, inclined to do the leg work, (although Trinity would make a great movie), I can at least tell you who to call first. Begin with the Writers Guild, also known as the WGA. Typically you can call them with the name of a writer, and they can tell you which agent represents that writer (bear in mind, however, that if you give them more than one name they are liable to get very snotty very quickly.) You can then call the agent and begin fishing for the pertinent names and numbers, though it may take a week or two to get past his or her assistant. They are, as I once was, tenacious buggers. If this route fails, try calling the publisher, in this case Bantam or whichever conglomerate currently owns that imprint. Once you get someone on the phone who sounds helpful (and they will typically be more helpful than the Hollywood types), try to get the digits of whichever literary agent or lawyer handles Mr. Uris' estate. Which brings me to another point, since Mr. Uris passed away last year, you will be dealing with his estate, which may make things more complicated. Finally, be aware that figuring out who owns which rights to which book at what price can often be a laborious and Byzantine process, especially in the case of a book like Trinity, the rights to which, as a decades old bestseller, have probably changed hands a number of times. It's because of these complexities that many of the bigger Hollywood agencies have a full-time employee whose responsibility is sorting out these rights issues. Still, if you have a dream, a vision, and a little bit of dough, none of these impediments should hinder you. Good luck, and feel free to let us know how things turn out.
Of all the things gnawing on George W. Bush as he shuffles around his retirement ranch in Texas, I'm guessing the most galling is the fact that he is the only president in the past quarter century who did not have a RoboCop movie released on his watch. That's got to hurt. In the course of every presidential administration since the Gipper's -- with the notable exception of W's -- a new RoboCop has come out. And down through those many years, America has always gotten the RoboCop it deserved. (Surely Bush fils is asking himself, "What did I do to deserve...nothing?" The answer: Plenty.) The latest installment in the RoboCop franchise, now playing in a multiplex near you, once again proves that these movies may fail as movies, but they never fail to illuminate the zeitgeist in which they're made. The new movie, like its three predecessors, is set in the not-too-distant future in my hometown, Detroit, a city that was chosen as the setting for the original movie in 1987 because it was already well on its way to becoming the sort of dysfunctional dystopia the filmmakers needed to convey their message. The Motor City, once the mightiest industrial dynamo on the planet, had morphed in a few short years into Murder City -- the perfect proving ground for a crime-fighter who was, as the movie's poster put it, "Part Man, Part Machine, All Cop." We Detroiters tend to be inordinately proud of our city's history, both the good and the bad -- its music, its cars, its sports teams, its struggles on behalf of working men and women, its rough edges. In his terrific 2012 book, Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis, Mark Binelli beautifully captured this skewed civic pride: "Back when I was a boy, growing up just outside Detroit, my friends and I beheld any mention of the city in popular culture with a special thrill. We loved how Detroit was deemed terrifying enough to be chosen as the dystopian locale of 'RoboCop,' the science fiction film set in a coyly undated 'near future,' when Detroit had become so dangerous that the outsourcing of law enforcement to an armored, heavily weaponized cyborg would seem a prudent and necessary move." The original RoboCop is now regarded as a sci-fi classic, largely because it asked a question of enduring interest: Are machines capable of emotions? But even as the RoboCop movies have declined in quality, they have served as ever-sharper reflections of what's been going on in the culture at large. Let's follow the downward spiral: RoboCop (1987) The 1970s were the last hurrah for the American middle class. Then along came Ronald Reagan to begin the long, ongoing job of dismantling the middle class by shifting its wealth and political power to corporate, government and wealthy elites. Today, thanks in no small part to Ronald Reagan and his spawn, more wealth is in fewer hands than at any time since the stock market crash of 1929. RoboCop arrived at the perfect moment. Reagan's second term was about to segue into the lone term of Papa Bush, and many Americans were feeling fat and happy and proud to be American, provided they didn't live in a blighted pocket like inner-city Detroit or hadn't had their job outsourced to an autoworker in Mexico. Peter Weller starred as Alex Murphy, a Detroit cop killed by drug dealers in the line of duty, who then has his vitals harvested and installed in a cyborg, turning him into a virtually indestructible cop. This nifty trick is the handiwork of a greedy conglomerate called Omni Consumer Products, which has taken over the Detroit police force and has big plans to build a development in the heart of the city and control its lucrative drug, gambling, and prostitution rackets. Privatizing a big-city police department -- it's very 1980s, an idea only Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher could love. "Trickle-down economics" can be seen trickling in the only direction it ever knew -- straight up to the corporate boardroom. The movie was deftly directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner. The writers are blessed with a droll sense of humor, slipping in a mention of Lee Iacocca Elementary School, a nod to the best-selling 1984 book by the Chrysler CEO, an egomaniacal tycoon cut from Reaganite cloth. There are also jabs at dumbed-down TV news, a recurring theme in the coming movies, as when a blow-dried newscaster intones, "You give us three minutes, we'll give you the world." There's even a jab at Star Wars -- Reagan's La-La-Land defense fantasy, not the movie. Amid all the corporate greed, violent crime, and official corruption, the thing that gives the movie its humanity is, oddly, its cyborg. RoboCop is tortured by scraps of memories of his previous life. "I can feel them but I can't remember them," he says of Alex Murphy's wife and young son. But RoboCop's best line is a blend of Dirty Harry and that other icon from the pumped-up Reagan '80s, The Terminator. Staring down a criminal, RoboCop says, "Your move, creep." RoboCop 2 (1990) This first of two sequels was a perfect fit for its times -- a re-tread movie released during George H.W. Bush's re-tread presidency. Both flopped. Unlike the Bush presidency, though, the movie franchise got another chance. Weller returned in the title role, but Verhoeven was replaced by director Irvin Kershner. Worse, the screenwriters Neumeier and Miner were replaced by Walon Green and Frank Miller. The result has none of the original's wit or snap. This time Omni Consumer Products wants to privatize the whole city of Detroit, and there's a new designer drug on the streets called Nuke. Otherwise the movie feels as bland and generic as the era during which it was made. The only sign that we're in Detroit are the logos on the police car doors. (The movie was shot mostly in Houston and L.A.) The TV newscasters are the witty ones here, as when a chirpy blonde talking head is told that environmentalists are warning that a pesky little nuclear meltdown could lead to a massive environmental disaster. "Don't they always say that?" she says before going to a commercial break. One reviewer noted that RoboCop 2 was "as savagely graphic as its predecessor but less skillful by half." The same could be said of the Bush and Reagan presidencies. RoboCop 3 (1993) In the first year of the Clinton administration, long before Monica and the Gap dress, the keepers of the flame brought out RoboCop 3, directed by Fred Dekker and written by him and Frank Miller. Peter Weller climbed out of the metal suit once and for all -- he described it as the most unpleasant acting experience of his career -- and Robert John Burke stepped in. The movie is a dreary rehash, but it does offer one timely twist. A Japanese conglomerate called Kanemitsu now owns and operates all of Detroit, and it plans to clear out thousands of residents in order to complete the Delta City development. But some plucky Detroiters refuse to budge, igniting a civil war between the corporation's minions and the citizenry. When the corporate thugs have trouble evicting tenants, the head of Kanemitsu fumes, "Incompetent Americans, you are fat and lazy!" But the best line belongs to McDaggett, the brutal general who tells Rip Torn, the new CEO of OmniCorp: "If you're just figuring out that the line between big business and war is a little blurry, then you're even farther over the hill than they say you are." This movie goes a long way toward explaining why RoboCop vanished during the George W. Bush presidency. Years before W was elected, RoboCop 3 laid out the doctrine that would define his presidency: War is big business, and vice-versa; xenophobia is cool; and anyone who disagrees with the government is, de facto, a terrorist. Even in 1993, the message was stale. Roger Ebert asked himself why people persist in making such re-tread movies. His answer: "Because 'RoboCop' is a brand name, I guess, and this is this year's new model. It's an old tradition in Detroit to take an old design and slap on some fresh chrome." The Detroiter in me hates to admit it, but the man was right. RoboCop (2014) There is exactly one worthwhile scene in the new RoboCop, which is a remake of the 1987 original, unlike the second and third movies in the series, which were sequels. There's a big difference. Sequels try to say something new with familiar material; remakes are content to update and rearrange the furniture. As this new remake opens, we're in the future on the streets of Tehran, the capital of America's latest Middle Eastern enemy. A TV news crew, led by yet another chirpy blonde, is getting ready to deliver live footage of the new generation of cyborgs that allow America to fight its pointless wars without any pointless risk to American lives. While drone aircraft swoop overhead and gigantic Transformer-esque machines stomp through the streets, robots electronically scan terrified Iranian civilians for signs of bombs, weapons or other threats. Meanwhile, inside a nearby building, a group of Iranian men are strapping explosives to their torsos and reminding each other that "the goal is to die on TV." This is meta. This has potential. But as soon as the American machines slaughter the Iranian martyrs, the movie abruptly abandons the timely questions it has raised about the morality of drone warfare and the complicity of the news media in promoting the government's dubious agenda. Instead, the movie shifts to Detroit, where it proceeds to ignore another potentially rich vein: Detroit's current bankruptcy, the largest in American history, which has left the city so broken that it takes an hour for cops to respond to emergency calls, most streetlights never get turned on, the population has fallen by more than half, and rich philanthropists had to pony up hundreds of millions of dollars to keep debt-collecting wolves from ransacking one of the city's last assets, its glorious Institute of Arts. This isn't some futuristic dystopia; this is Detroit today. But this RoboCop has no interest in examining such pungent contemporary material because it's content to remain a fantasy. Once again, the result is generic escapism that could have been made anywhere. (Other than some nice aerial shots of Detroit, most of it was filmed in Canada.) The only splash of local color the movie gets right is Detroit's rococo strain of official corruption. In the movie, several Detroit cops have been funneling high-powered rifles from the evidence locker to a local arms merchant, with the full cooperation of the chief of police. Now that's verisimilitude. In 1992, Detroit police chief William Hart was sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing $2.6 million from a police fund used for making undercover narcotics buys. But that splash of local color is washed away by the bombastic, jingoistic histrionics of a TV pundit named Pat Novak, played by Samuel L. Jackson. It's painful to watch this talented actor slog through material that doesn't even rise to the level of a parody of a parody of Bill O'Reilly. Yet somehow these dreadful Novak segments fit perfectly into a movie that refuses to address the interesting questions it raises -- about drone warfare, the morality of crime-fighting techniques, the human cost of corporate greed. The movie wastes other talented actors, including Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jennifer Ehle, and leading man Joel Kinnaman, already a star in Sweden and soon to become one here. This squandering of opportunity is a tidy metaphor for what Barack Obama has done with his 2008 mandate to make fundamental changes in the way America functions. Dream on. The filmmakers seem to have decided -- no doubt correctly -- that after a dozen years of pointless, endless war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public is worn out. The American public doesn't want to think about international wars, political corruption, urban decay, or the gutting of the news media and the middle class The American public just wants to be entertained. And so the makers of the new RoboCop have dutifully given them what they want -- another noisy, gimmicky diversion that makes the world go away for all of 108 minutes. Which is to say that, once again, America has gotten the RoboCop it deserves.
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About halfway through the screening of the new documentary Herblock: The Black and the White, one of the closing entries in this year's Tribeca Film Festival, it occurred to me that you haven't really made it in America until someone has made a movie about you. Three of the many talking heads in this documentary -- reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and former executive editor Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post -- have already been the subjects of a movie, the much-praised 1976 feature film All the President's Men, which was based on Woodward and Bernstein's book about the fall of President Richard Nixon. What's more, the actors who played the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters in that movie -- Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman -- are the subjects of a new documentary about the making of the original feature film and the enduring fascination with Watergate. This new documentary is called, appropriately if unimaginatively, All the President's Men Revisited. Stop the presses! Hollywood people never tire of talking about themselves and their achievements! But back to Herblock. It's a heartfelt, uplifting documentary about the legendary Washington Post cartoonist Herbert Lawrence Block, known universally by his nom de guerre, Herblock. Peppered with the predictable talking heads -- though not Redford and Hoffman, mercifully -- it tells the story of a self-effacing artist from Chicago whose patriotism, prescience, and deft pencil led American journalism's charge against such bogeymen as Hitler (even before he was elected chancellor), the gun lobby, Sen. Joseph McCarthy, segregationists, big oil, big business, big military budgets, big money in politics (as early as 1950), the arms race, Stalin, the Vietnam War, and, most famously, Richard Nixon. Herblock drew McCarthy and Nixon with swarthy mugs, sweating, frequently crawling out of mud puddles or open sewer holes. Herblock coined the pejorative "McCarthyism," and he hated Nixon's guts and wasn't shy about saying so. In our watered-down, fair-minded times, such venom is bracing. In addition to all those talking heads, the documentary consists of many pictures of Herblock's cartoons, interspersed with a long on-camera interview with him in his cluttered office at the Post. Dressed in his trademark baggy sweater, he comes across as a wise, witty uncle. "He worked until he died," says one of the talking heads. Not quite. Herblock's last cartoon appeared on Aug. 26, 2001, and he died six weeks later at 91, after working at the Post for 55 years and winning three Pulitzer Prizes, the Medal of Freedom, and an uncountable number of enemies among the rich, the powerful, and the corrupt. The film makes the points that Herblock was always looking out for the little guy, that he was an ardent believer in the importance of a free press in a democracy, and that he enjoyed complete editorial freedom. This last point was not always the case. During the 1952 presidential campaign, the Post editorial board supported the Republican candidate, Dwight Eisenhower. Herblock drew scathing cartoons of Ike, portraying him as an out-of-touch lightweight. When the Post started pulling his anti-Eisenhower cartoons, readers howled -- and pointed out that Herblock was syndicated in hundreds of other papers and they would take their business elsewhere. The Post editors caved in, and Herblock was forevermore off the leash. After the Herblock screening ended and the applause died, the documentary's director and co-writer, Michael Stevens, stepped onto the stage to answer questions. First he introduced several people in the audience who were involved in making the movie, including Alan Mandell, who, it turns out, is an actor who played Herblock in those interview scenes in Herblock's office. This bit of legerdemain was jarring -- I had assumed I was watching the real Herblock on the screen, not a convincing look-alike. Was it dishonest of Stevens to put words in the mouth of an actor in a documentary, without alerting the audience? And where did those words come from -- the dozen books Herblock published in his lifetime? Interviews he gave? Stevens's imagination? I raised my hand but never got to ask my questions. [Editor's Note: Filmmaker Michael Stevens has pointed out to us that this question is answered in the film's credits, which state: "starring ALAN MANDELL as HERBERT BLOCK based on the writings and speeches of HERBERT BLOCK"] As I headed home from the theater, those unsettling questions were crowded out of my mind by a memory. One of my most prized possessions is a photograph that was taken in The Washington Post newsroom on election night in 1952, when I was three months old and an out-of-touch lightweight named Dwight Eisenhower was in the process of defeating Adlai Stevenson for the presidency. The photograph depicts a scene of great hubbub -- reporters crowding around a messy table full of old newspapers and sandwiches and coffee cups, while a man pours coffee from a big white hobo pot. It's not hard to imagine the clatter of typewriters, the screaming of telephones, the distant murmur of a police radio, the cigarette smoke bluing the air. It's a man's world, and for me there is only one man in it: the guy pouring the coffee: my father. I love the details of that photograph. The map of the world on the wall. The copy spike on the cluttered table. The milk in glass bottles. The lovingly wrapped sandwiches. The stacks of china cups and saucers. And, above all, my father's patent-leather hair, his French cuffs, the dainty way he holds the coffee pot's lid with his left pinkie as he pours for his fellow newsmen. That picture seems like an artifact from some prehistoric age. My father was a respected Post reporter and rewrite man at the time -- "the fastest typist in the newspaper business," as Bradlee, then a hard-charging fellow reporter, would later put it in his memoir, A Good Life. (Upon reading those words in the 1990s, my father, a proud man, had sniffed, "I like to think I was the fastest writer in the newspaper business.") Bradlee does not appear in that election-night photograph. Neither does Herblock, who had his own office down the hall. But the most noticeable absence, for me, was not the men who have now been immortalized by movies; it was an old-school police reporter named Alfred E. Lewis who worked on a series of articles with my father that nearly won a Pulitzer Prize. Lewis spent 50 years as a lowly cop reporter at the Post, nearly as long as Herblock, without acquiring a fraction of the cartoonist's fame or fortune. The series my father and Lewis collaborated on was called "The Charmed Life of Emmett Warring," about a powerful and slippery D.C. racketeer, a prime target in the Post's campaign to root out police corruption. The articles ran on the front page every day for a week and jumped to two full inside pages, an astoundingly detailed and literary collaboration between a gumshoe street reporter and a lightning-fast rewrite man. Years later, after he had left the newspaper business, my father showed me a typed, single-spaced, two-page memo from his editor, spelling out the kind of detail he wanted in the series, right down to how many pairs of shoes Emmett Warring owned, what his house looked like, what brand of booze he drank, and how much of it. That memo is still astonishing to me -- the realization that people cared so much and worked so hard at putting out a daily newspaper. Bradlee, in his memoir, called Al Lewis "the prototypical police reporter, who had loved cops more than civilians for almost fifty years." My father told me that Al Lewis had a hard time writing coherent English prose, but he knew every cop and every criminal in D.C., and he frequently beat the cops to the scene of a crime. In other words, he was an invaluable asset to the paper's city desk. Twenty years after Ike's victory, Lewis hadn't lost a step. On Sunday, June 18, 1972, the Post ran what appeared to be a routine breaking-and-entering story. It opened like this, straight, no frills: 5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats' Office Here By Alfred E. Lewis, Post Staff Writer Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here. It turned out that when Lewis arrived at the Watergate complex with the acting police chief several hours after the bungled burglary, he sailed past the roped-off reporters outside the building and went right up to the crime scene, where he gathered vital color and details. Eight other reporters contributed legwork to Lewis's report in that Sunday's paper. One was a hungry young hun named Bob Woodward; another was "Peck's bad boy," in Bradlee's words, a renegade named Carl Bernstein. At the time no one appreciated the story's implications. But it's a safe bet that the Post's first Watergate story would not have had such punch and detail without the contacts and legwork of an old-school cop reporter named Al Lewis. And no one connected the mushrooming scandal's dots more quickly than Herblock. Herblock is a welcome reminder that there was a time, not so very long ago, when American newspapers were stocked with people like Herb Block and Al Lewis and Dick Morris, men and women who were passionate about producing quality journalism and didn't give a thought to ratings, celebrity, blog hits, or search engine optimization. Today, even a superb investigative reporter like Bob Woodward has been neutered by the seductive fame and money that fester inside the Beltway. People in America are still producing quality journalism, but, like serious fiction, it is being pushed deeper and deeper into the margins of the culture by forces that seem unstoppable. All the more reason to remember and celebrate faceless foot soldiers like Al Lewis. I say he deserves to be the subject of a documentary or feature film at least as much as the far more decorated Woodward and Bernstein and Bradlee and Herblock. I have a strong hunch that Herblock, that great champion of the unsung little guy, would have agreed with me. Image Credits: Bill Morris and Wikipedia
I’ve read Anna Karenina countless times, published articles, and dedicated two chapters in my book Understanding Tolstoy to the novel. So it is particularly exciting for me when an adaptation comes along that allows me to see the novel in a fresh light and even stirs me to tears over moments I thought I knew by heart. That happened to me a number of times while watching Joe Wright’s 2012 adaptation of the work. Which is why I was disappointed when the movie was nominated for Oscars in what amounts to the consolation prize categories, the ones having to do more with the style than the substance of the film: Cinematography, music (original score), costume design, and production design. But then, I’m not surprised. Most criticisms of the movie have focused on the idea that it’s long on style, short on depth. Robert Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times writes, “This is a sumptuous film -- extravagantly staged and photographed, perhaps too much so for its own good.” “Visually stunning, emotionally overwrought, beautifully acted, but not quite right,” claims Betsy Sharky of The Los Angeles Times. And yet, I would argue, that it is precisely by means of its stylistic prowess that Wright’s film captures the deeper truths about Tolstoy’s novel as successfully as any other adaptation I’ve seen. One of the most controversial aspects of the movie is the filming of the whole thing in a dilapidated theater. In making “the radical artistic choice to tell the story as if it were being enacted by players on a stage,” writes Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly.com, “Wright falls passionately in love with his own fanciful artifices.” Maybe, but he also gets at one of the novel’s central ideas: that this is a spectacle society concerned more about show than substance, with tragic consequences. Two thirds of the way through the novel Anna goes to the opera. By this point, she’s deep into her affair with the juicy cavalry officer Vronsky and has left her husband Karenin, who refuses to give her a divorce, making it impossible for Anna to remarry legitimately. A woman without social standing, Anna is the talk of the town, and, apparently, the main attraction at the opera that night. A woman sitting in the box next to her makes a scene after the woman’s husband exchanges a few polite words with Anna. Here’s what Wright does with that moment: A hush comes over the theater and all eyes turn from the stage to Anna, illuminated by a spotlight as she sits there in her light-colored gown of silk and velvet with a low-cut neck, in her glittering necklace, with expensive lace in her gorgeous, black hair -- and utterly humiliated. That shot says it all: There sits the real diva of the night, the grand dame of Petersburg high society whose titillating story of adultery, self-destruction, and pariahdom those leering theater-goers thoroughly enjoy from behind their lorgnettes. That they, too, may be complicit in Anna’s sad tale is a possibility none of them bothers to consider. But if Wright doesn’t demonize Anna, nor does he glamorize her, as is so often the case with filmmakers and readers alike. When Tolstoy first started working on the novel, he envisioned Anna as a kind of empty tramp, but the more he wrote, the more sympathetic he became to her plight. Still, at no point does he absolve her of moral responsibility for her own decisions, as some readers are too apt to do. Anna is a tragic figure, not merely because she is an emotionally deprived woman in a loveless marriage surrounded by empty hypocrites. She is also a victim of her own her romantic illusions, of making, in Tolstoy’s words, “the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realization of desires.” By giving herself over to the fantasy of complete liberation, Anna becomes a slave to her passions, a star in a tragic story partly of her own design. She is a stark illustration of Tolstoy’s belief that one of the central problems of modern social life isn’t just that we’re all playing roles on a stage, but that those roles often end up playing -- and destroying -- us. Wright (and Stoppard) might have made a safer bet by focusing exclusively on the sexy Anna-Vronsky plot, as other movies have done, but they instinctively understood this to be counter to Tolstoy’s intention. Anna and her tragic story reflect the truth that broken families, ungrounded passions, and human isolation are central to the modern experience. It is against these realities that the autobiographical rural landowner Levin, with his questing spirit and commitment to higher ideals, must fight. He belongs to a minority in his time -- as he would in ours, which is why his story is vitally important today. Levin strives for meaning that neither the social artifice, the reductive scientific world view, the moral relativism, nor the pseudo-religiosity of his era can provide. Dostoevsky called him one of those “Russian people who must have the truth, the truth alone, without the lies we unthinkingly accept.” The director’s choice to film the Levin scenes at his estate in the countryside in a realistic as opposed to a stage setting is actually quite brilliant in communicating the impression Tolstoy gives in the novel that Levin is one of the few characters in his world who is connected to something real and authentic. Then there’s Karenin, whom Wright correctly senses is a lot more like Levin than most readers ever suspect, at least when it comes to his uncompromising belief in ideals and principles. Wright doesn’t reduce him to the mean-spirited, rational machine so many filmmakers have made him out to be. Karenin is a deeply principled man who is simply incapable of accessing or expressing his emotions. But they’re there, all right, and Jude Law makes us feel them. When Karenin is sitting alone at the front of the stage before the dimming flood lights, having just learned that Anna is pregnant with Vronsky’s child, he turns slightly towards his wife (and the viewers) and says, “Tell me what I did to deserve this.” That heartbreaking moment reveals all the depth of his confusion. Like everybody else in Tolstoy’s novel, he has been thrust into a tragic situation beyond his capacity to understand. Do I think this is a perfect movie? No. Keira Knightley is a little too young-looking and too thin for Tolstoy’s voluptuous, 28 year-old Anna. The movie could have made the connection between Anna’s and Levin’s storylines even more explicit, as Tolstoy does when he has the two meet near the end. There are moments here and there where the acting doesn’t quite ring true, as in that scene when Vronsky reacts to the news that Anna is pregnant with his child. And maybe the British tabloids had a point when they wondered why Wright decided to turn the dark-haired Vronsky into a blond. But to criticize is easy. To create is hard. And Wright has shown himself to be every inch the creator, not on the level of Tolstoy, of course, but certainly on the same emotional and philosophical wave length. A literary adaptation, in my view, shouldn’t be an imitation, but an interpretation. And a good interpretation, as any literature teacher or literary critic knows, is one that doesn’t cover a book, but uncovers it. For me, Wright’s film did that. The power of this movie isn’t merely in the fact that the director has willfully re-shaped Tolstoy’s classic according to his own bold, wacky conceit, but that in his very stylistic quirkiness he has actually brought us surprisingly close to the philosophical vision of the original work. For that even the most dedicated Tolstoy aficionados can be grateful. The Academy should have looked a little bit deeper.