The Last Station
A Masterpiece about one of Russia's Greatest Authors
"The Last Station" is a historical masterpiece of epic proportions. Usually, I never care much for historical dramas as they often tend to be biased, and historically inaccurate in most cases. However, this film was a bit of a surprise. As it was not only highly entertaining, charming, funny and dramatic, it was also a heart felt story that will delight audiences across the globe.
Based off the novel by Jay Parini. The film is essentially about the famous author, Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), who wrote the classic novel, "War and Peace." Leo struggles to balance out fame and wealth with his commitment devoid of materialistic things in his life. Of course, this causes severe rifts in his marriage with his wife, Sofya Tolstoy (Helen Mirren), as she fears that an alleged follower of Leo's passive aggressive movement, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), might be trying to take advantage of him, during his golden years. Enter Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), who is sent by Vladimir to check up on Leo and his wife, as sort of a spy to find out when the best times to talk to Leo would be, so Vladimir could easily persuade him without the Countess interference. Although followers of Tolstoy's teachings practice the art of abstinence, Leo never does nor has he in his life, by his own admission to Valentin when the two characters get to know each other. Valentin is a practitioner of abstinence; that is until he meets Masha (Kerry Condon). Masha is a playful and free spirited young girl, that believes in love and matters of the heart versus tradition and upbringing. Not that much different from how the Countess Sofya and Leo describe their young romance together, in various scenes.
What I love most about this movie is how it portrays the characters as human beings, rather than these iconic historical figures, which would've been easy to do given the nature of their beliefs and personalities. Christopher Plummer's character, Leo, is looked upon almost like a god or at least a messiah, by several of his followers. And given the nature of his character's passive aggressiveness while denouncing all materialistic things, I'm sure it would have been tempting for almost any other actor to portray him as such. However, Christopher Plummer offers a different approach, as he portrays Leo as a man who knows how people see him as a god-like figure, but he never believes in it. Instead, he merely laughs about it, and only wants what's best for not only his family but to strongly stand by his convictions.
Helen Mirren was also rather brilliant in her role as the sophisticated Countess Sofya Tolstoy. Portraying a character that tries to support her husband's endeavors, despite her own personal objections. However, allows her own paranoia and fears to get the best of her, as it creates severe conflicts with her marriage.
Then let's not forget about Paul Giamatti who plays a great antagonist, in this movie. At first coming off as a strong believer in Leo's passive aggressive movement, but soon reveals himself to be nothing more than an opportunist. A man who could care less about Leo Tolstoy, but rather what he could represent as an iconic figure, as Vladimir tries to get Leo to sign away his copyrights to all his literary work to Russia in the new will. Something that even Valentin is quick to point out, when he soon discovers how Vladimir goes to great lengths to separate Leo from his wife, during his last dying days. However, as Sofya has taught Valenin, it's that true love conquers all, no matter what problems lied in the past. Hence, during Leo Tolstoy's dying days, there was a truce among the disputing parties.
I found the story remarkably unique and rather charming. Unlike most historical dramas where the viewer gets bogged down with a lot of pacing issues, this film is surprisingly fresh and entertaining. I thought Michael Hoffman does an excellent job mixing in just the right amount of drama, humor, and sensuality in the movie, to allow audiences to feel for the characters. As it was rather humorous to see how all these followers of Tolstoy's teaching preached about abstinence, but Leo himself never practiced it.
Although there are certain parts that are never fully explained in the movie, like why Vladimir was under house arrest at the beginning, or why is Leo's daughter, Sasha Tolstoy (Ann-Marie Duff), was siding with Vladimir when he tries to coax Leo into changing his will. Even though these things are never fully explained in the film, it was still a pretty well told story. One that I would highly recommend to anyone.
Overall, "The Last Station" may not be the most commercially popular film out there, but it's certainly one of the best. I can see why Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer got nominated, as they both played out their parts rather well. Plus, Paul Giamatti flexes his acting muscles again as he literally becomes a great opportunistic villain in the movie, but rather in a more subtle way. As it allows for his character to come off as not only charming and humorous at times, but to come off as petty and conniving. "The Last Station" is definitely a must see for any fan that loves historical based films.