Leo Tolstoy is famous for his stance on passive resistance and belief that all men should be equal. In “The Last Station,” however, the path to these things is not easy.
“The Last Station” takes place during the last few days of Tolstoy’s (Christopher Plummer) life. I don’t know how historically accurate the story is, but in the film there is drama between Tolstoy and his wife, Sofya (Dame Helen Mirren). Tolstoy and his followers (mainly Paul Giamatti’s character, Vladimir Chertkov) want to change his will so that his writing becomes part of the public domain after his death — that way Tolstoy’s message can spread to the widest possible audience. Sofya, however, feels that the books should go to a publisher and the family should make money off his works. Sofya also regards his followers with contempt, feeling that they do not truly understand Tolstoy’s writing. Caught in between is Valentin (James McAvoy), Tolstoy’s newly-appointed secretary. He is chosen by Vladimir Chertkov for his devotion and lack of having actually lived a “normal” life (he’s both a vegetarian and a virgin).
What I found great about “The Last Station” was its storytelling. There is a constant struggle to figure out whether the “greater good” is worth the personal sacrifice. Should Tolstoy let his work be free if it hurts the woman he loves? Should Sofya accept that not making money off of Tolstoy’s work would do more good than harm in the long run? It’s a blurry line. Because of this, your feelings towards the characters often shift. Their actions can turn from noble to selfish in a manner of minutes. McAvoy’s character’s impassivity can make you absolutely furious, but when he takes action, you can see where his intentions lie.
Both Christopher Plummer and Dame Helen Mirren have rightly been recognized by The Academy for their roles. The scene in the dinning room with the opera playing in the background is absolutely fabulous. The emotions seem so real that once again it’s hard to choose sides, because you can see how each thinks their argument is genuine. If there is any downside to the actors, it’s their accents. In one scene, Paul Giamatti says something about if he wanted things a certain way he would have moved to America, but with his American accent, the line just seems odd.
“The Last Station” currently is in limited release, but as the Oscars get closer, look for it in more theatres.
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