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7/10
'Station' mixes farce and tragedy to fairly good effect
Turfseer12 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
'The Last Station' focuses on the last year in the life of  Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist.  Toward the end of his life, Tolstoy began promulgating a secular religious philosophy based on the Christian teachings of 'turning the other cheek' and helping one's fellow man.  He advocated pacifism and urged members of the upper class to attend to the needs of the indigent.  A cult-like group of anarchists, The Tolstoyans, headed by Vladimir Chertkov, insinuated themselves into Tolstoy's life and set up a commune of followers near Tolstoy's country estate.  

The plot of 'The Last Station' is relatively simple.  Chertkov hires a young pacifist, Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy) to work as Tolstoy's secretary but in reality act as his spy.  Valentin is instructed to write down everything the master says and relay all garnered information back to Chertkov.  The Tolstoyans have high and mighty ideals about spreading Tolstoy's message but the leadership are a bunch of prigs, insisting that all members of the commune lead ascetic lives as celibates.  At first Valentin wears his virginity as a badge of honor but soon falls for the free spirited Masha (Kerry Condon), who seduces him. Masha soon grows disillusioned with the 'movement' as she cannot abide by their rigid rules.

Tolstoy appears to be much more open-minded than his followers and laughs at Valentin when he admits that he's a virgin. Nonetheless, it's never really explained in much detail why Tolstoy is attracted to his 'Tolstoyans'. There's some talk about Tolstoy being impressed by Chertkov's ability to get his message out to as many people as possible. By the same token, Tolstoy cannot be unaware that his followers deep down are a bunch of reactionaries.

It's his long-suffering wife, Sofya, who sees through Chertkov and his minions and clashes with her husband about her suspicions that he might be changing his will in favor of his obsessed followers. Her fears are realized when Tolstoy agrees to sign away all his copyrights so that the Russian people can read his books for free. This outrages Sofya, since she was counting on having the family receive the inheritance.

Three quarters of 'The Last Station' is played primarily as a farce. Helen Mirren intentionally serves up an over-the-top performance as Sofya, the overemotional countess, who would probably be diagnosed today as bi-polar. While Sofya correctly sees through Chertkov's machinations, her emotional outbursts end up alienating her husband, who finally has had enough and decides to leave his estate.

The last quarter of the film (the more serious part) chronicles Tolstoy's last days as he ends up the subject of intense media scrutiny. Buoyed by his followers along with his devoted daughter, Tolstoy is given lodging by a kindly stationmaster after disembarking from a train in southern Russia. Meanwhile, Sofya tries to commit suicide by jumping in a pond back at the Tolstoy estate. The suicide attempt fails and she soon learns of Tolstoy's aborted trip and that he's now dying. She races to see her stricken husband but Chertkov and her daughter prevent her from seeing him on his death bed. Finally, as he draws his last breaths, the daughter allows her mother to pay her last respects.

'The Last Station' is most successful in the scenes where Helen Mirren is battling the Tolstoyans. Two scenes come to mind right away: where Sofya falls through the window and rages against Chertkov as they plot to divert the family inheritance; and when Sofya fires a gun multiple times at Chertkov's picture. There's also quite a bit of nice interplay between Plummer and Mirren, as the Tolstoy's love/hate relationship is dissected in high relief.

Paul Giamatti is one of the best American character actors out there today and does a fine job of playing up the comical aspects of the petty tyrant, Chertkov. But Chertkov remains unexplained—does he have any redeeming characteristics or is he a pure villain? (when Giamatti keeps twirling his moustache, we're inclined to believe that he is indeed the principal villain of the piece). James McAvoy doesn't have much to work with in the part of Valentin who's depicted as a Nervous Nellie who eventually (and rather predictably) joins up with Masha and leaves the Tolstoyan cult for good. One thing is for sure: Christopher Plummer can do no wrong as Tolstoy (when is Plummer ever bad in a part?)

'The Last Station' is well written but by no means should it be considered 'high-brow'. The idea that the well-intentioned ideas of a creative man such as Tolstoy could be so easily corrupted by a group of cult-like, anarchistic followers, is never explored seriously. Instead, the film's scenarists are bemused by both Tolstoy's followers and family members and view their machinations more as farce than serious drama. Only in the last scene, where Sofya expresses her undying love for her husband who has just expired, does 'The Last Station' rise to the heights of deep emotion.

'The Last Station' will certainly keep your interest from beginning to end. And please pay attention to the closing credits, where the actual motion pictures of Tolstoy walking around on his country estate, are shown.
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The return of big cinema
Cliff Hanley12 February 2010
The Last Station is described as a melodrama - and I would say that's a fair description. It's the kind of film they don't really make any more. The spirit of David Lean lives on. It's beautiful to look at, for a start, and the music is genuinely incidental, lushing away in the background. We all know that Leo Tolstoy wrote a book, although few of us have the nerve to actually sit down and get to grips with War And Peace. But there was more to the great man than that - in his time he was regarded as godlike, and enjoyed a fairly big cult following, the Tolstoyan Movement, devoted to goodness, purity and equality - as long as it didn't mean the end of the deferential lower classes.

Tolstoy's young secretary Valentin is dropped into this, at the deep end. The 19th century Russian hippies, the fanatically devious disciple Chertkov who wants the great man to sign away the rights to his work, to the Russian People; the hard-pressed but manipulative wife determined to keep it in the family. And the girl who introduces the young man to the pleasures of the flesh. It's a great cast, headed by the unrecognisable Christopher Plummer, and the always marvelous Helen Mirren. The constant undertone in Tolstoy's saga is the disparity between his wish for a good life for the peasants, and the sight of those peasants beavering away in the background while the upper classes get on with their lives of pampered angst.

It's the growing struggle between the disciple and the wife, with the secretary pulled between new and conflicting loyalties, that will grab your attention. You really will care about these people. And what follows is the melodrama. I will say no more, except that it's a big story, told big. Just what Norma Desmond told us we had lost.
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9/10
Excellent Historical Drama
J_Trex3 March 2010
This was an excellent historical film based on the relationship between Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) and his wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren), during Tolstoy's final years. The film also explores Tolstoy's relationship with his Assistant, Valentin (James McAvoy) and his cabal of acolytes, lead by Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti). The main tension comes between Vladimir, who wants Tolstoy to bequeath his copyrights to "The Russian People" and Sofya, who naturally would like the copyrights reserved for herself and family.

Mirren earned an Oscar nomination for Lead Actress and Plummer received one for Supporting Actor. I believe both were well earned. I liked the performance from the entire cast, particularly McAvoy as the adoring Assistant to Tolstoy. The screenplay was excellent and the Director, Michael Hoffman, did an outstanding job bringing pre-Communist Russia to life. The time period is 1910 and the cinematography beautifully captured the era. During the closing credits, actual film of Tolstoy and his Wife was run, underscoring what a great job the Director did in filming this.

A great movie and well worth seeing or renting.
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10/10
Wonderful film, this will go far
jamesdelf14 September 2009
I just saw this at the Telluride Film Festival. It was just fantastic. The story and characters are very well drawn and engaging. Tolstoy is wonderfully presented as a man who is aware he cannot live up to his own ideals. It shows how his image and words are corrupted into the ideals and beliefs of others who have lost their way. The acting, cinematography, costumes, all was superb. It is a film about love. The portray and comparisons of old love and new love. Love of a man and love of an ideology. Well done to all who worked on it. I hope this does not get misunderstood as a dry drama, as it is a very funny and moving film. I cannot wait to see it again.
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9/10
A very enjoyable movie
richard-17873 March 2010
There is nothing to fault in this movie, really, and pretty much everything to praise.

The script is very good. The characters are fleshed out and developed in complexity as the movie goes along. You continue to learn more about them, see more facets of their character.

And they are realized by first-rate performances. There is not a weak one in the batch.

The direction is also very fine. There is not really much of a plot here; it's more of a character study. Still, the director keeps things moving along, never veering into the sentimental or the cute. You grow to like these characters a lot, but there is no attempt to yank your emotions.

My only very slight reservation about this movie is just a personal preference. I went into it knowing virtually nothing about Tolstoy's life or the movement that was developed out of his later writings. I would have appreciated a little dialogue somewhere explaining more about that. I realize, however, that that is not the norm in modern movies, and I certainly had no problems following what was going on without it. Viewers such as myself will just have to go read a book about Tolstoy for that additional information, which is certainly not a bad thing.

This is not a film for the ages, a Citizen Kane or a Rules of the Game, a Potemkin or such. Still, it is a very well-crafted movie, one that I could easily watch again with no diminished pleasure. One that, as well, I can recommend to anyone who enjoys good acting and watching interesting characters being developed by and through it.
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8/10
This Station is all Clear...
Clayton Davis3 December 2009
If you took a Leo Tolstoy class in college or read one of his works during your time at the library and wanted to know a bit more about the man, don't really look to The Last Station. Does that make it a poor film? Not by a long shot.

The film follows the story of Leo (Christopher Plummer) and Sofya Tolstoy (Helen Mirren), married couple for 43 years, and the battle that raged between them at the end of Leo's life. As Leo's health is ailing, his long time friend Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) urges Leo to write a new will, renouncing his material possessions, leaving his wife and family with nothing. All of this is in order to have Leo's movement of peace to go to the majority. Chertkov sends a young follower of the Tolstoyan movement, Valentin Bulgakov, to investigate and inscribe all of Sofya's exaggerated and histrionic antics to work against her campaign.

Firstly, the film is A-typical period piece with all the correct elements of that type of film. Art Direction by Mark Rosinski and Heike Wolf, stunning costume design by Monika Jacobs, and a score to die for by Sergei Yevtushenko is pitch perfect and exalted brilliance. Nothing is wrong with this film technically.

An extraordinary narrative beautifully adapted by the director Michael Hoffman is one of the crowning achievements of his career. Dedicating his all for the sake of the art form, Hoffman writes and directs the screen with meticulousness and accuracy. Playing that extra special detail to smooth out an rough edges paid off for Hoffman immensely.

The cast presented in The Last Station is stellar and one of the best cast ensembles of the 2009. James McAvoy, proving once again, that you don't just lay down the words of your acting, you let the spirit fight its way through your soul and remain a tangible entity for your audience to engage. McAvoy proves he's one of Hollywood's most outstanding talents. Helen Mirren, riding the see-saw with her viewers, never declares any type of emotion until the bitter end. Mirren shows no apparent ambiance of mood or expression. She sizzles through the film, igniting every scene on fire along the way. Christopher Plummer as the lovable Leo is amiable, captivating, and entrancing. Plummer, a talent long overdue for Oscar recognition is enticing. Paul Giamatti, in a more villainous role we haven't seen of him before, is always dependable and alluring. Anne-Marie Duff and Kerry Condon are both enthralling in their roles respectively.

The Last Station is a definite contender for a Best Picture nomination. It's a delightful film full of heart, love, and heartbreak. The temptation of the films aura will lure you in and surely leave you in tears.

***½/****
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9/10
Excellent cast in a gem of a movie!
bleu_tulips9 March 2010
I've been looking forward to this movie for a while now and finally saw it last night. I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it! The entire cast was excellent; both lead and supporting roles were strong and added such depth to the movie. McAvoy, Mirren, Plummer and Giamatti were especially brilliant in every aspect. They each showed the strengths and weaknesses of the characters they portrayed, and it was a pleasure to see them interact. Although smaller roles, Duff and Condon played significant characters and were also very good in their portrayal. Just an amazing ensemble cast. I was surprised, and saddened, that this movie didn't get more attention; two nominations (Plummer and Mirren) was not nearly enough.

I've heard others say the movie was too slow but I can't say that the pace of the movie bothered me much. I found the story quite interesting and the scenery and costumes added to the movie without being distracting. I would certainly see this emotional and thought-provoking movie again!
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3/10
Like Reading People Magazine Instead of War and Peace
Dan1863Sickles9 April 2010
Silly, shallow, sleepy and slow, this sumptuous costume drama about the aging Leo Tolstoy and his long-suffering wife Sophy fails to do several things well.

It fails to give you any insight into why Tolstoy was one of the greatest writers who ever lived. Or why he wanted to give all his money to the poor. Or why he was so desperate to renounce sex. Or how any of this connected to what was actually happening in Russia at the time.

The movie spends hours and hours tittering and giggling over Tolstoy's earthy appetites -- as though it's so extraordinary that older people still enjoy having sex. But we don't get even five minutes of time with the people Tolstoy wants to help -- the Russian peasants. If we can't see them suffering, then Tolstoy's ideas just seem like charming whimsicality. Which is just what this movie wants -- to keep things shallow, so we can celebrate the joys of casual sex (and the gossip and glamor surrounding celebrity couples) and not get all hung up on heavy things like poverty, justice, and human suffering.

One moment sums up the whole problem. Early in the movie, Tolstoy and his wife actually have a rather interesting conversation about the people. Tolstoy says that if they give all their wealth to the peasants the peasants will embrace them as family and they'll all live peacefully in a world without hunger or injustice. Countess Sophy replies tartly that if the peasants ever got their hands on that much money they'd just spend it on whores and drink.

Neither of them brings up a third possibility -- that the peasants HATE them and do not WANT to live in brotherhood. The truth the movie ignores is that sooner or later the peasants will make the beautiful people pay for three hundred years of stealing their food, women, and land. The laziness, corruption, greed, and callousness of the Russian aristocracy -- which the real Count Leo Tolstoy knew only too well -- is entirely absent from this film.

As a result, we entirely miss the real tragedy of a flawed but courageous nobleman trying (too late) to make amends. Instead we get melodrama, sentimentality, and a lot of schoolgirl giggling about sex.

It's like reading PEOPLE magazine instead of War and Peace.
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fizzy and vapid
psyran-116 January 2011
Rather than present at least a GLIMPSE of Tolstoy's brilliance, Christopher Plummer depicts him as a one-dimensional, gruff, lovable old coot. He hardly has any lines throughout the movie, and the other characters are equally devoid of any depth. Helen Mirren's character is supposed to be self-centered and calculating, but even she breaks down into saccharine lightness at the end. The entire film is a descent into maudlin, pretentious sentimentality, and is only atmospheric, not substantive. Instead of being an accurate portrayal of early 1900's Russia, we are given "Russia-lite." We don't have a clue about Tolstoy's inner thoughts and motivations, because we see only an affable geezer. This was a squandered opportunity to reveal the mind of a complicated, social visionary. The director chose cute over interesting.
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4/10
disappointing, cheap melodrama
dbeach226 November 2010
I was out of the country when this film came out and so have looked forward a long while to watching it on DVD. What a disappointment. It was nothing but cheap melodrama. I don't know if that's how Jay Parini wrote it or if it was more how Michael Hoffman directed it, but in any case, it too often devolved into sentimentality. I understand that the tensions between Tolstoy, his wife, and the Tolstoyans that the film focused on are a historical fact. They may have been factually, in some instances, also as histrionic as the film represents. I'm quite willing to believe too that the histrionics were as much or more on the side of Chertkov and the Tolstoyans as on Countess Tolstoy's. Still, the portrayal of Chertkov as villain was so melodramatic that it's not an exaggeration to say that we see him twirling his mustache. Tolstoy was many things, but one of them was was the master of the realistic detail. Sorry, none here.
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6/10
You've Got Plummer and Mirren; Now Give Them More to Do
evanston_dad26 August 2010
"The Last Station" should have been great, but it settles for being merely good. Despite its impressive cast and juicy subject, something about it just doesn't quite click.

Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren play Leo Tolstoy and his wife in the days leading up to the writer's death, and the tumultuous relationship they shared, she feeling brushed aside by the author because of his commitment to his work and the Tolstoyan movement that developed around it. James MacAvoy plays a young man who scores the job of being Tostoy's assistant and becomes witness to this domestic drama and an unwitting accomplice to the machinations of Tolstoy's close friend and business adviser (Paul Giamatti) to wrest copyright of Tolstoy's works away from his wife upon the writer's death. If all of this sounds like a delicious set up for great acting and suspenseful intrigue, you'd be right; unfortunately, the movie is so much less than what it could have been.

Plummer and Mirren are wonderful in their roles, and the movie's best scenes are the ones of them together. However, they're not in the movie enough, and their relationship, which is the most interesting thing about the story, takes a back seat to the politics of the Tolstoy movement and MacAvoy's reactions to them. MacAvoy is a terrific actor and I've liked him in everything I've seen him in, including this. But I simply didn't care as much about his character as I did Tolstoy and his wife, and I spent the whole film itching for the screenplay to give Plummer and Mirren, two great British actors, more to do.

Paul Giamatti's character is oily and unlikable; indeed, there's something about Giamatti the actor that I find unlikable in general and actually makes it hard for me to watch him. Kerry Condon, on the other hand, in a smaller role as MacAvoy's love interest, is lovely.

Grade: B
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10/10
The Pick To Click As One Of The Best Films Of 2010
druid333-27 February 2010
If you are familiar with the name,Count Leo (Lev)Tolstoy,but have never read 'War & Peace',or any of his other novels,fret not. It's not necessary to enjoy 'The Last Station'. A young man,Valentin Bulgakov (played by James McAvoy)is hired by Vladimir Chertkov (played by Paul Giametti,adding a touch of class to his already impressive backlog of film work),who oversees the written work of Count Tolstoy,to spy on him at his commune/ashram in the Russian country side,in the guise of Tolstoy's personal secretary. Bulgakov arrives to find a homestead overseen by the Tolstoy's,Leo (played to perfection by veteran,Christopher Plummer,who has come a long way since 'The Sound Of Music'),and his wife,Sofya (Helen Mirren-always welcome on screen). During his stay at the Tolstoy residence,Valentin finds out that things are not what he perceives (Tolstoy doesn't exactly practice what he preaches in real life). He manages to take a tumble to Tolstoy's youngest daughter,Sasha (played by Anne Marie Duff). All of the dirty laundry & family drama comes out to make this a tart,funny,entertaining film with winning performances by all. Michael Hoffman writes & directs the screenplay,from the novel by Jay Parini,in a film that will hopefully garnish attention beyond the art house screen. Rated 'R' by the MPAA,this film has some brief nudity & some sexual content.
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2/10
Great disappointment
wakey224 July 2010
During the last year Tolstoy lived wasn't there about to be a great upheaval in the world? The great war was about to start. The Russian revolution was a few years away. There was turmoil and strife in the air everywhere. But not in this movie. Yes, it is about Tolstoy and his life but didn't he live in a world in upheaval that pushed his philosophy? Wasn't there a context??? Not in this movie. This movie was like watching a story that takes place in 1775 without any mention of the revolution about to take place with no mention of the mood of the people. Though this is my main gripe I have others. Overacting, poor story writing among others. This could have been a great movie; the life of the people populating it were of a grand scale. But this movie doesn't do it. It is more of a soap opera than anything else, with people shouting and crying and falling down. What about the literature. Hardly a mention. Don't waste your time; read the books!
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3/10
Great cast but unappealing story
phd_travel6 August 2010
What is wrong with this movie? How could they go wrong with a cast like this? Take the excellent Helen Mirren who gives a tour de force, the unusually convincing Christopher Plummer and the fascinating James Mcavoy. There is a great historical subject together with a lovely score and pastoral setting. It's the story that disappoints.

The story here is not interesting and is actually quite unpleasant. Towards the end of his life Tolstoy wants to give his money to the people which brings about a conflict with this wife who understandably wants some money for herself and the children.

Of all the things to focus on, you basically have a movie about a great writer's fanaticism manipulated by the misguided Paul Giamatti into an ugly fight about money with his wife which hastens his death.

All you end up feeling is irritated with Tolstoy for being ungrateful and unrealistic in his treatment of his wife who bore him 13 children. It's actually quite depressing. And James Mcavoy the secretary's affair with a disciple of Tolstoy does not mesh well with the plot.

Overall - see it if you like the subject matter but be prepared to feel irritated and let down.
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1/10
"I would have blown my brains out."
eltrkbrd14 August 2012
This kind of Hollywood trash has Tolstoy rolling in his grave.

It's like watching an extended American soap opera; just a bunch of ballyhoo and over-dramatic lovers' quarrels that focus obsessively on the question of who will retain the copyright to Tolstoy's works.

There's not even a single mention of Tolstoy's literary work and the film is bereft of any philosophy leading up to the Russian Revolution less than a decade later.

In this film, Vladimir Chertkov says to Tolstoy's Wife, "I would have blown my brains out. Or gone to America." After watching this movie, you'll likely prefer the former...

In short, this film is total drivel and an utter two hour waste of time.
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10/10
The Idealism and Realism of Leo Tolstoy
gradyharp24 June 2010
So much has been written about the evolvement of the movement toward social equality the grew out of the second half of the 19th century Russia that we often forget the gentler side of the true meaning of 'socialism': unfortunately it is inexorably tied to the now negative noun 'communism' and has colored the world view of the 20th century, losing sight of the original dreams of those who championed the beginnings of it. THE LAST STATION takes us to that time when the kinder aspects of of the movement reigned. Celebrated writer and essayist Leo Tolstoy was deeply admired by the Russian people not only for his immense gifts as a writer, but also for his humanitarian concerns that created a solid movement at the end of his career. Could a Count, man of wealth and royalty, forsake his worldly possessions (including the rights to the royalties of his books) and spread his belongings to the people of Russia? If the answer were requested from his Countess wife Sofya the answer would be an emphatic NO!: this headstrong woman refused to consider letting her rights to her husband's writings (which she helped create) evaporate into the hands of the 'ignorant poor masses' upon her husband's death. This conflict forms the meat of the story related by THE LAST STATION.

Writer/Director Michael Hoffman beautifully adapted the novel by Jay Parini and selected a perfect cast to recreate this important period of time around the final days of Tolstoy's life. Christopher Plummer is able to give us a fully realized portrait of the conflicted Tolstoy. Paul Giamatti seethes oily evil as Tolstoy's principal disciple Chertkov, a man so driven to make Tolstoy's life's work into public domain that he alienates almost everyone he encounters. Helen Mirren reveals all the love and passion and fury and rage as Sofya in a performance so richly detailed it must be seen several times to appreciate all the nuances. James McAvoy is the central figure of the story - the appointed secretary Valentin who is sent to Tolstoy's magnificent home to record all of the events developing in the Tolstoyian movement, a movement that included living in a commune where Valentin encounter's Masha (Kerry Condon) who helps him shed his outer shell of protective innocence to discover the true heart of Tolstoy's movement - Love! Significant cameos are portrayed by Anne-Marie Duff as Tolstoy's daughter Sasha, Patrick Kennedy as Sergeyenko, and John Sessions as the doctor, Dushan. The film is a work of brilliant conversations, moments of history unraveled in a perfect way, and yet it is a film rich in comedy and in passion and in the struggle between a long married couple coming to grips with the change in the social milieu of the day. The title refers to the isolated train station where Tolstoy died and the range of loss of dignity and retention of emotional power is mightier than the whole of changing Russia. The musical score is by Sergei Yevtushenko ('The Russian Ark') and the moody cinematography is by Sebastian Edschmid.

THE LAST STATION is a breath of fresh air for those who long for meaningful movies these days. It calls upon the intellect, it satisfies the yearning to observe first class acting, and it dares to tell a story that will encourage discussion after seeing the film. Would that there were more like this.

Grady Harp
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6/10
Muddled ending
Chris Knipp6 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
As The Last Station begins, Leo (more correctly Lev or Liev) Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) has given up novel-writing for the dissemination of his own personal Tolstoyan ideology based on a literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus. It calls upon the privileged to devote themselves to vegetarianism, pacifism, and helping the poor. Tolstoy's ideas about non-violent resistance were later to have a strong influence on Gandhi and Martin Luther King. At this point communities in Russia have been set up to practice his principles, and we glimpse one, though Tolstoy himself lives at one remove from it on his big estate, eighty-something, long-bearded, still riding horses, writing, and arguing (often affectionately) with his wife. Given to fits of generosity that have long infuriated her, he's now planning to turn over the rights to his literary works (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and the rest) to the Russian people. This means royalties won't go to his heirs. Sofya (Helen Mirren), his passionate and outspoken wife of 48 years, is vehemently opposed to this, which she sees as an abandonment of the rights and needs of Tolstoy's own family. She was supposed to be the literary executor. Her chief opponent on this issue aside from Tolstoy himself is his arch-supporter and secretary, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti); Chertkov's vying with Sofya for control of the rights.

And vying is hardly the word; hyperventilating might be more appropriate. Mirren shouts. Plummer growls. Giamatti barks. The Last Station is a heavy-breathing historical weepie. It's a Russo-German production in which everything happens and nothing happens and everybody speaks English. More British than Russian despite its authentic-looking costumes and sets, this is one of those posh Masterpiece Theater-style productions that draws you in but never feels quite convincing. It's a feast of overacting, tumult, and peasant clothing made to order for older members of the middle-class art house audience. It's hard to see who's the greatest drama queen here, though Mirren, who's played a remarkable array of great women in her time including the wife of Caligula, a gangland kingpin's moll and -- in more restrained mode -- a very un-drama queen Queen of England, probably earns the scenery-chewing prize; she lets out all the stops. The yelling, hissing, ranting, and sobbing never stop. Sometimes, as they send out great puffs of black smoke and chug noisily into remote Russian outposts, including Astapovo station where the writer lives his last days, even the antique railway trains seem to be overacting.

As a wide-eyed and innocent new secretary named Valentin sent by Chertkov to spy on the family, the young Scottish actor James McAvoy blushes, grins, tears up, and sneezes -- nervous reactions because he's so happy and awed to be in the presence of the great man; the cutesy-ness of this is cloying. The cast also includes McAvoy's real-life wife Anne-Marie Duff, as Sasha, Tolstoy's daughter. But Valentin isn't involved with Sasha; he connects with a feisty young member of the household at Tolstoy's country estate called Masha (Kerry Condon). Masha agrees with the idealistic ethical principles of the group but thinks everyone's a pompous bore. Tolstoy seems to be against sex, but Valentin breaks the rules with Masha. McAvoy chews up the scenery in his own way. His character's rather saccharine purity contrasts with the overbearing power struggle and ideological posturing, but never really becomes clearly relevant to the main drama. Maybe he's meant to draw in a younger audience for the movie, but the effort is feeble.

Much is made of separations and reunions. Masha leaves the estate, putting Valentin in a quandary. He's too wound up in the Tolstoy family drama to go and join her but it's his loss. Tolstoy is bent on ending his days like a monk and goes off leaving Sofya behind to abandon everything in a remote area, but he never makes it beyond the train station at Astapovo, where he falls ill. Sofya comes, is sent away, comes back. It all ends in a funeral scene full of Russian peasant faces (recruited actually in Germany, where the film was mostly shot), a sequence Eisenstein would have done much better. This story is an example of the irony of the rich and famous posing as simple souls. Tolstoy thinks himself alone in his last days but there are hundreds of journalists and photographers outside and the note-taking every time he opens his mouth never ceases.

Christopher Plummer, who really is 80, is a real acting lion. He's grand in his long gray beard and looks quite like the real Tolstoy. But what he's doing is hamming it up. Giamatti, a good journeyman whose best roles are still the lovable losers he played in American Splendor and Sideways, looks a lot like the real Chertkov and if we're just not meant to like him, he's done enough. Mirren is a great actress, but here she's just shrill. Plummer's and Mirren's foreplay scene in which they cavort in bed and cock-a-doodle-do and giggle is about as embarrassing as discreet art house cinema can get. Working from a recent historical novel by Jay Parini, Michael Hoffman has not exercised sufficient restraint over his cast in this misguided effort. The actors are at their most, but not at their best. And, worse yet, it's never clear what we're supposed to make of these people, and whether Tolstoy's last days were futile, tragic, or just highly publicized.
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Yoko Bolsheviko tried, but couldn't break up the band
Chad Shiira10 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Countess Sofya(Helen Mirren) gave birth to thirteen children, none, by all accounts, were products of immaculate conception, yet Leo Tolstoy(Christopher Plummer), the author of "Anna Karenia" and "War and Peace", had the chutzpah to start a religion that promoted celibacy. Not only was the countess a prolific baby-maker, she collaborated with her husband in the capacity as an editor, proof-reading everything he wrote like a critic, not a sycophant. And most daunting of all, Sofya transcribed six drafts of that tome of tomes, "War and Peace", with a mere pen. She was old, Tolstoy was even older; they were supposed to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but then the prodigious thinker thought too hard and started a cult, in which Tolstoyan dogma, at its behest, promoted the relinquishing of worldly possessions. To Sofya's chagrin, she and love itself seemed to have been on Tolstoy's checklist of things being itemized for disposal. Unbeknownst to the countess, on a crisp, summer afternoon in the woodlands, Tolstoy committed a crime against their marriage with one stroke of a pen, which delivered his life's work to the public domain. "The Last Station" challenges the moviegoer's notions about the sanctity of religion, when it doesn't just create international wars, but domestic wars, as well, between a husband and wife who love each other, but share opposing ideologies. For the woman who risked post-natal complications after childhood and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tolstoy shows total disregard for her sacrifices, in a scene where the arch-ideologue replaces Sofya's picture on the wall with one of Vladimir Cherktov(Paul Giamatti), a Tolstoyan guru. It's madness. The Countess Sofya Tolstaya, his wife, is real, flesh and blood, but Tolstoy shows more reverence for something that he made up, and his co-conspirator, an arbiter of Tolstoy's legacy with a pedigree that hardly stands up next to the wife and mother of, let me repeat this, thirteen children! On Tolstoy's deathbed, after he departs from the proto-hippie commune he started back home at his Yasnya Polyana estate(the physical relationship between Valentin(James McEvoy) and Masha(Kerry Condon) demonstrates the impracticality of the Tolstoyan ideal; the self-denial of love), the countess apologizes for her "wickedness", her "badness", which to me, strikes a misogynistic note because it plays to the opinion of the pious moviegoer that Sofya's petition against her husband's philanthropy was based solely on greed for book royalties. "The Last Station" suggests that Sofya drove her husband to a premature grave, forcing the old man on an arduous journey via train in order to flee his "crazy" wife, despite being in a state of declining health. Her apology obscures the fact that its the the Tolstoyan lifestyle, religion itself, with all its arbitrary rules and regulations, which is crazy.
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2/10
Death and Tolstoy
cmeneken-19 April 2010
I looked forward to seeing a dramatization of the last years of Tolstoy's life, especially having seen the ten minute clip on you tube which was a composite documentary newsreel from those years.The newsreel footage showed Tolstoy walking around, riding a horse, getting on a train, etc. This was more interesting than the film version. While the acting was OK, there was no dramatic tension in the film, and seemingly no purpose for making the movie. As other reviewers have noted, there was no attempt to show Tolstoy the author, the visionary, the great old man of Russia. It was simply a soap opera with Helen Mirren shrieking every so often and Plummer mouthing some nonsense. No depth at all. It put me to sleep five or six times. I think the director saw the newsreel and fashioned the film in that vein without any understanding of the author or the events of that time. A real disaster.
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10/10
Timely and thought provoking entertainment
andrew cappelletti18 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
If Helen wins another Oscar for this, it will be well deserved. Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, and Ann-Marie Duff all give fine performances. Paul Giamatti shows us a side of him we have not previously seen. Pure villain. A villain fueled by ruthless passion for a noble cause. IMO Michael Hoffman has contributed to the world in an important way by making this movie and releasing it at this time in history. While Tolstoy's thoughts on private property were definitely out of the box and the precursors to the Bolshevik revolution therein equally as radical, these things all touched the nerve of the masses as a result of a society who's financial state was extremely out of balance. This director is finicky about the material he chooses. He could make pictures every year were he willing to jump on the Hollywood band wagon. He chooses his projects wisely. In this case, he wrote the script as well as directed so it's totally deserving of the DGA sanctioned "A Film by (MIchael Hoffman)" credit. And not only does he use his skills to teach. And he does so in a highly entertaining fashion. That is a rare, and much needed pursuit these days. A great little picture, entertaining as hell, and it leaves one thinking about such things in the light of today's global economical downturn.
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Operatic
jdesando17 February 2010
"Your works are the birthright of the Russian people." Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) in The Last Station

Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Leo Tolstoy drifted at the end of his life into spiritualism but of a more naturalistic kind, which disavowed materialism, espoused celibacy, and talked about the simple power of love. Michael Hoffman's The Last Station chronicles in historical drama fashion Tolstoy's (Christopher Plummer) struggle with his wife, Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren), over his desire to bequeath his works to the Russian people and thus, as she thought, deny her and her family rightful inheritance.

The film has an operatic tone due in large part to Mirren's occasional histrionics as she argues with Tolstoy and faces off Chertkov, Tolstoy's close friend and a force for the Tolstoyan movement, which espoused the writer's philosophy of austere life, feeling at times like a stripped down transcendentalism popular in 19th century America. The first half of the film has some electric moments because of Sofya's dramatics and her attempt to win over Tolstoy's new personal secretary, Valentin Bolgokov (James McAvoy). When the film turns to the business of Tolstoy dying, matters become slowly boring with overwrought lamentation and a slow up of the frenetic family dissonance of the first part.

The Last Station is a study in life's ironies: Tolstoy has been far from a celibate in life and therefore not a good Tolstoyan. Bolgokov is annoyingly enthusiastic about his new position and the tenets of the movement, except when he makes love to his new girlfriend, Masha (Kerry Condon) and even then he is such a prig as to be even more annoying than the histrionic Sofya. Recently innocent Richard narrated the story in Me and Orson Welles, and famously, Nick in The Great Gatsby. All three share in varying degrees intimacy with a famous person, with Bolgokov the least impressive.

Tolstoy does eventually die, Sofya gets the copyright, and I got an hour of splendid family invective along with my thoughts about the great writer of War and Peace and Anna Karenina reduced to annoying bickering about inheritance. Yet I enjoyed those thoughts about a sublime writer as a flawed human being whose final philosophy was about love and peace. Love he had in abundance; peace did not arrive.
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4/10
Captain Von Trapp and Queen Elizabeth II shine in this otherwise cluttered film
thesubstream23 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Last Station, director Michael Hoffman's melodrama about the last months in the life of Leo Tolstoy, begins with fog and sleep. Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) lives with his family in a compound at Yasnaya Polyana, taking walks and writing and being seen to by his wife and the adherents to his "movement", people dedicated to his ideas of pacifism, vegetarianism, sexual abstinence and communal property who have gathered in a forest camp not far away. His wife, Sophia (Helen Mirren) wars openly with the head of his movement Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), who she claims in his efforts to convince Tolstoy to sign the rights to his works over to the Russian people is trying to steal the wealth that is owed to her upon her husbands imminent death. Observing all of this is Tolstoy's new steward, Bulgakov (James McAvoy), a naive adherent who is torn between his love of the man and concern for his wife.

Hoffman's script, which is based on the novel by Jay Parini, quite often veers itself into confused territory, building up a complex tangle of threads and opaque motivations that ultimately don't resolve themselves in any satisfying way. The scope of the film is grand, and its story should reverberate just as Tolstoy, whose beliefs foreshadowed in some ways both the Bolsheviks' and those of pacifists like Ghandi. It unfortunately doesn't, it's un-unpickable, building up with much gusto confrontations that are constantly ravelling off into nothingness. The three-way relationship between the Church, the faithful Sophia and the unbelieving Tolstoy, for example, is referenced often. In the last section of the film a mute priest in a magnificent hat even shows up, but the script never expands on this beyond awkwardly inserting it into the story as an attempt at enriching it or providing some semblance of historical accuracy. There are a ton of details in the film, but not enough attention is paid to most of them and as a result the film feels cluttered, overburdened, energetic but unfortunately pointless.

At its heart is the love story between Sophia and Tolstoy, and that story, as baffling and cramped as it is, is the reason to watch the film. Mirren and Plummer are, unsurprisingly, the best things in the film. Plummer's Tolstoy is vague, at once confused and resolute, apprehensive and full of joy and certainty. Mirren's Sophia is in full panic, in a righteous lather, forced to watch and expected to be mute as her husband gives away his time, his possessions and his money to people who are unquestionably devoted to him but also clearly in possession of their own agendas. They're great performances, all the more so given the vast gulf between the real importance of the couple's place in history and the script's ability to support that, both Sophia and Tolstoy seem willed into the film by Mirren and Plummer alone, both making the best they can out of what meagre material is there. Giammati and McAvoy, both talented actors, are unable to do the same and Giamatti's Chertkov seems neither a revolutionary nor a thief (and not both at once, either) but rather a cipher, a stand-in for a whole package of unresolved anxieties and aborted historical impulses. The scope of this thing never boils down to anything, it hitches along, getting by on the strength of Plummer and Mirren and not much else. It's interesting and pretty, but ultimately unrewarding. 4.5/10
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6/10
The Last Station-Needs An Express **1/2
edwagreen6 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Pre-Communist 1917 revolution is the backdrop for this drama which features a totally over-the-top performance by Helen Mirren as the Countess Tolstoy, and Christopher Plummer as the great writer Leo Tolstoy. Both Mirren and Plummer were nominated for Oscars in the best actress and supporting actor divisions, respectively and deservedly lost to Sandra Bullock and Christoph Waltz, respectively.

The movie is a slow moving one with a sidebar story of Tolstoy's social secretary finding love in the commune that the writer has set up.

The film is extremely slow moving and brooding with Paul Giamatti, the friend of Plummer, stealing every scene that he is in. Conniving and supposedly loyal to his friend, he sets forth a changing of the will to supposedly help Tolstoy's cause of peace which sets him against Mirren.

As shown in the film, the peasants didn't look like they had it that bad which is a major flaw of the film. In fact, Mirren seems to be suffering even more. Is she that money hungry, desperate for love or just what?
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7/10
Tolstoy's final drama
Philby-311 April 2010
The American director Michael Hoffman, in adapting Jay Prini's semi-factual novel about the last year in the life of the great 19th century Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, makes as his central character not the famous author but his wet behind the ears 23 year old secretary Valentin who is hired by Count Tolstoy's devout admirer Vladimir Chertkoff to both work for Tolstoy and spy on the countess, Sofya. She is not sympathetic to her aging husband's anarcho-Christian leanings, nor to the movement based on his philosophy, and fears the family will be deprived of the benefit of Tolstoy's copyrights.

Valentin, played fetchingly by James McAvoy, is a bewildered witness to the crisis in the stormy relationship between Tolstoy and his wife, which results in Tolstoy fleeing Sofya and his estate, only to die at a lonely railway station many miles away, with the world's media (such as it was in 1910) looking on. Unfortunately Valentin, based on a real person, is not only green but rather ineffectual and he is in the story as a witness rather than as an actor. One of the features of Tolstoyans was that they all seemed to have kept diaries and these provided Parini with most of his material. You can see why Hoffman made Valentin the central character, but his ineptitude is rather tiresome and his seduction by the lovely Tolstoyan Masha (Kerry Condon) (in contradiction to Tolstoyan-mandated chastity) is all a bit beside the point. It is the relationship between Leo (Lev) and Sofya that provides the real drama here, and the final scenes between them are genuinely moving.

Helen Mirren as the histrionic Sofya is alone worth the price of admission and Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy is convincing, though he demonstrates a lot more personal warmth than the real Tolstoy apparently did. Despite most of the filming being done in Germany the Russian atmosphere and countryside were well-evoked though I did wonder whether the serfs were real – none of them seemed to speak. There were also some inconsistencies in the screenplay – in one scene Valentin is at the Tolstoyan commune "two hours" from Tolstoy's estate at Yasnaya Polyana, yet in a later scene he rides between the two places seemingly in a few minutes.

Apart from the love story (and Tolstoy did maintain that love was all that really mattered), the other theme is the contrast between high ideals and the personal power play evident in the "movement". The Chertkoff character (slyly played by Paul Giamatti) is a Machiavellian schemer, unlike his real-life model, and even if Sofya had been more level-headed she had something to fear. But in the end the politics peter out and what remains is the rather sad end of a great literary figure feeding a media frenzy. Tolstoy was not actually Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi (with whom he corresponded) but he deserved a more dignified death – he valued peace, not war.
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2/10
Deeply disappointing
Michael Malak7 May 2010
The only five minutes of the movie worth watching are the last five minutes of the movie. The rest is of such substandard quality that I could not justify showing it on TV, not even at three o'clock in the morning.

In all, the first 45 minutes are nothing more than a collage of clichés. The rest is not much better.

I suppose the movie could have been saved by weaving-in-between the plot lines some of the works of Lev Tolstoy, but there isn't one single quote or even a reference to his works in all 120 minutes!

I'm very surprised about the relatively high marks given by other viewers on this site. The only explanation for this I could come-up with is that at age 40 I was the youngest person at the theater. So I'm guessing that older people must be not as discriminating as I am, more tolerant of a movie without a plot line.
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