The Last Station | Michael Hoffman, 2009
There are certain types of movies that have come to be known as Oscar movies. These movies are those that might have a hard time finding an audience, so they are made to win awards, so therefore people will be interested in seeing them. These are dramas that deal with heavy subjects, have outstanding production values, feature actors trying to outdo their previous work, and must have at least one scene where the main actors yell at each other. Of course, not all of them are good, but when they are there is something satisfying about them because they do actually deserve all the praise and awards they got or tried to get. Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station is one clear example of an Oscar movie. While it does have its flaws, and I wouldn’t say that the production deserved any sort of awards consideration, the performances, the only thing that was recognized for that movie, did deserve every nomination that they got.
The movie is about the time that leads to Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s death. Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), author of War & Peace and Anna Karenina, wants to leave his works in the public domain after he dies because he doesn’t belive a person should not benefit from another person’s work (or own property, have sex, etc.). His wife, Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren) thinks he is mad wanting to leave her and her children with nothing. Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giammati), founder of the Tolstoyan movement sees Sofya’s stance as a threat to the icon that Tolstoy could become, so he does everything in his power to shut her out, including hiring Valentin Fedorovich Bulgakov (James McAvoy) as Tolstoy’s secretary, as well as a spy to let him know what goes on with Sofya. But Valentin must also deal with his own problems, such as the morality of what he has to do, but as well as the challenges that come from being a Tolstoyan.
This movie is odd, as there is almost nothing bad that I can say about it, but I don’t think it is a great movie. I guess you could say that the direction is a bit uninspired, and that the movie goes on for too long, therefore losing some of goodwill that it may have gained during the first two thirds of the movie. Pretty much all the problems lie in the last third, where everything comes together. But everything before that is surprisingly fun, sometimes funny, and, well, really good. But I wish that it had ended where Tolstoy leaves his wife, and then have some cards tell us what happened afterwards.
However, the script is surprisingly strong. This is not so much a history lesson, but rather the story of a wife being kept away from his wealthy husband for business reasons. And it is a very compelling story. Tolstoy is not treated as an icon but as a man who liked to live by what he believes in, but is not a strict follower. Meaning, he is portrayed as a human. Also, the love story between Sofya and Tolstoy is wonderful. There are not nearly enough romances about elderly people as there needs to be. And if they all could be played as they are played by Plummer, and Mirren,…wow.
This brings me to the best thing about the movie: the performances. Mirren deserved the Oscar nomination she got for this. But it would not have been the same without the chemistry that she has with Plummer. The two of them play off each other very nicely, and you actually they are a real couple. Speaking of Plummer, while not his best performance, it was nice to see him get his first Oscar nomination. Had Christoph Waltz not been nominated, I think he could have won. James McAvoy is as charming as ever, and he also has great chemistry with Plummer and Mirren. Paul Giammati is at his sleaziest as Tolstoy’s confidante and the person who wants him to become immortal in the people’s minds. Performances are great all around.
The Last Station is your typical Oscar movie, but I enjoyed it a lot despite the uninspired direction and running time. It’s worth watching if only for the performances, and it is much better than other Oscar movies.