I know what’s going on with the great Anna Karenina. I’m not stupid. It has a 69% Rotten Tomatoes rating — two-thirds admiring but with guys like David Edelstein, for one, calling it “as boldly original a miscalculation as any you’re likely to see.” I can hear the distant shouts of an unhappy mob as we few, we stalwart few, clean our flintlocks and await the inevitable. But at least Hitfix‘s Drew McWeeny is a thumbs-upper, and he states his case clearly.

Director Joe Wright “has taken one of the great novels of all time and working with one of the great voices in modern theater, Tom Stoppard, come up with something that honors the book but also refigures it in a way that illuminates the material to striking effect. Wright is once again working with his favorite leading lady, Keira Knightley, and this might be their most stylish, heightened effort yet. Wright and Stoppard have come up with an immediate way of making the book’s themes explicit, and how you respond to the film will depend largely on how you react to the device they’ve created.

Seamus McGarvey‘s photography, the score by Dario Marianelli, the sumptuous production design by Sarah Greenwood…all of it plays into this overheated relationship, this all-consuming desire, and the film does a great job of conveying how that feels. Wright does everything he can to put us at the eye of this particular hurricane so we can feel it for ourselves. This isn’t about watching it with a dispassionate eye, but is instead about feeling what it’s like to get so caught up in passion that everything else fades away.

“To some degree, it is the way the story is told that wowed me more than the story itself,” McWeeny concludes. Wells insert: Exactly! It;s not the material as much as the brushstrokes. “The last third of the film loses some steam narratively, and it’s hard to make a wallow in self-pity feel as engrossing as the early embrace of the passion, but Wright manages to find grace notes even in that stretch. Overall, Wright continues to distinguish himself with this film, and it seems to me that he’s still just mastering his voice.”