Rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity, 112 minutes
Well-drawn, affecting "The Last Station" details Tolstoy's last days
You may have heard of the classic novels "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. "War and Peace" could very well describe Tolstoy's volatile relationship with his wife in his final days, which are expounded upon in the superbly acted, engaging "The Last Station." Christopher Plummer (one of the voices in "Up") and Helen Mirren ("The Queen") play Tolstoy and his wife Sofya, and their stirring performances highlight the film.
Tolstoy (Plummer) is entering his final days in frail health, surrounded by family and friends. He's regarded by one of the most influential writers of the era, so much that it's inspired a Tolstoyan religous-like movement, led by one of Tolstoy's closest adviser's, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti). Tolstoy's radical, anarchist views have displeased wife Sofya (Mirren), and their relationship is marred by a turbulency, particularly when Chertkov, whom Sofya despises, encourages Tolstoy to turn over the copyright of his works to the public domain, leaving nothing for Sofya and the family. Meanwhile, Tolstoy has hired a new secretary, Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), who gets caught in the middle of Leo and Sofya's varying views that threaten to tear the family apart before he dies.
"The Last Station" is a fascinating, stimulating dramatic retelling of Tolstoy's final days that's both touching and moving that falters only when it adds an unnecessary subplot with McAvoy's character. "The Last Station" is also a baffling title given that 95% of the film doesn't take place in a train station, and is a reference to the place where Tolstoy died. A more fitting title would be "War and Peace: Leo and Sofya" since it's really about their relationship, and the dynamic performances from both Mirren and Plummer (who remarkably bears resemblance to the real Tolstoy) give the film considerable dramatic heft, particularly in some of the heated agitations that are the more memorable parts of the film.
"The Last Station" would be near perfect had it not focused too much on the Bulgakov character played by "Wanted's" McAvoy. It bears little purpose to the film only to show that Tolstoy had considerable influence over his personal life, something we already knew from the outset. McAvoy holds his own with acting giants Mirren and Plummer (his character's nervous sneezes are amusing) in a part that should be considerably smaller than it really is. Giamatti gives a strong turn as Chertkov, and he has a couple of good moments of displeasure with Mirren.
The production values are lush, with beautiful sets and costumes. Some may also carp that "The Last Station" doesn't attempt any Russian accents, but then that would've been a distraction from the story itself and isn't needed. Director and writer Michael Hoffman ("The Emperor's Club") serviceable direction and writing should be just as lauded as his two actors, who are slowly gaining acclaim for their performances.
"The Last Station" is one of the year's acting highlights and comes recommended.