Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Last Station 2009

The Last Station” is an entertaining drama about the final year of the great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy. Helen Mirren is suburb as Countess Sofya (Tolstoy’s wife) in this funny, richly emotional film about the difficulty of living with love and the impossibility of living without it.  You can think that what Helen Mirren does in

“The Last Station’’ can’t really be called overacting in her melodramatic explosions. It’s something larger. If you’re uncomfortable with the grand gesture.However that full-blowness is entertainments and, besides, Mirren is letting her diva hair down the better to play a diva: Countess Sofya Andreyevna Tolstoy, spoiled and stressed wife of Leo Tolstoy.The countess is the sort of woman who doesn’t exist without an audience, and what actor can resist that?

The movie is full of great performances, from Christopher Plummer’s delightful depiction of Tolstoy as a rough old guy to Paul Giamatti twirling his waxed mustache and playing as Vladimir Chertkov, Tolstoy’s secretary and rival with the countess for the great man’s legacy.

In the middle of these characters since each side asks him to spy on the other is James McAvoy as the young and ardent Valentin Bulgakov, hired as the writer’s secretary when Chertkov is put under house arrest by the czar’s police. McAvoy has played these roles before, but “The Last Station’’ gives him more than usual to build on, and the character grows in inner strength and outer confidence.

The movie explores the chaotic time period just before World War I. With his published calls for universal peace, chastity, women’s freedom, and the abolishment of private property, the 82-year-old Tolstoy was the most famous of the nation’s utopians, with communes full of devoted “Tolstoyans’’ hanging on his every word. He was sort of a prophet.

At the core of this film is the difficult relationship between Tolstoy and his wife. “The Last Station” is about the war between idealism and pragmatism, fame and privacy, the nobility of the soul and the delights of the flesh.  The film contrasts the pleasures of young lust with the rich, intimacy of married love, with sequences between the author and his wife that convey a lifetime’s experience in a couple’s coded private language It is a delightful film. Watch it!

“The Last Station” was directed by Michael Hoffman. Written by Hoffman, based on a novel by Jay Parini.

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