REVIEW: The Last Station

16 03 2010

The Last Station” is a movie that would have played well in ‘20s and ‘50s.

It’s a classic battle of communism vs. capitalism as Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren) fights for the right to the profits from the writings of her husband, famed writer Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer).  Her fiercest opponents are the forces that hope to turn her husband into a saint and his work into a movement, led by the ruthless Chertkov (Paul Giamatti).

Caught awkwardly in the midst of all of this is Valentin (James McAvoy), a secretary for the family hired by Chertkov to document all the proceedings in the Tolstoy’s dwelling.  A devoted “Tolstoyan,” Valentin believes in abstinence and rejects private property.  Yet as he becomes intertwined in the affairs of the house, he finds himself smitten by one of the commune workers and sympathizing with Sofya’s plight.

In “The Last Station,” I saw in Helen Mirren what I feel like everyone else in the world saw in “The Queen.”  As supposed to her passive and gentle Oscar-winning work in the latter, I saw truly powerhouse acting that absolutely commands the screen.  It wasn’t just her reputation that earned her these many nominations; this performance is completely deserving.  I’ve never advocated that screaming plus shouting with some crying equals an Oscar nomination, but plenty of people claimed that the trailer just screamed awards attention for Helen Mirren.  She does plenty of it, but it is executed with the utmost perfection that it never feels like she begs for attention.

Christopher Plummer is charming and delightful as Leo Tolstoy.  This isn’t the best of 2009 or of his career, but it’s another great reminder of what a treasure he has been all the way back to Captain Von Trapp in 1965.  The fact that this was his first Academy Award nomination is truly criminal.

“The Last Station” is a movie that succeeds because of its phenomenal acting, mainly from Mirren and Plummer.  But it’s also one of those movies that can win you over with the stunning beauty of its setting.  In fact, it almost becomes difficult to keep your attention on the actors during the scenes in the forest and not let your eyes drift to the gorgeous foliage.  The movie often tries to focus on love and romance, but the theme isn’t played out with great success.  Thankfully, it plays a smaller part to the conflicting ideologies, and it is here where the film is at its strongest.  B+ /


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