A striking film that deserves far more recognition than what award shows have given it, The Last Station combines a strong story with even stronger actors. Focusing on the last year of Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s life, Station becomes a character study, a study of life and human value, as Tolstoy, his followers, and his wife struggle to reconcile the ideal values of the Tolstoyan movement.
Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) claims to care deeply about his dear friend, Tolstoy, but quickly puts the importance of the Movement and his own ideas above the importance of Tolstoy’s original ideas. His concerns take the form a will that Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) must sign that would leave his works to the Russian people as public domain, thus spreading Tolstoyan ideas to the farthest reach. Meanwhile, Countess Sofya Tolstaya (Helen Mirren), Tolstoy’s wife, realizes the will could take away her children’s inheritance, a fact that launches her and her husband into an escalated love-hate relationship. As Sofya makes her disappointment in the will more evident, Chertkov sends Valentin Fedorovich Bulgakov (James McAvoy) to keep a check on the countess. Bulgakov begins to have his own doubts in the movement, however, as he befriends the countess and falls in love with a local named Masha (Kerry Condon). Such a forbidden relationship leads to a realization of an imperfect human nature and of the need that all people have: love.
While the elongated plot and many characters make for a slow moving film, the depth of characters and their stories make the film worth watching. The actors stay in their elements throughout, resulting in a captivating movie that could be made boring by it’s slow pace.
Mirren steals the screen with her constant emotional roller-coaster as the countess. She smashes plates and screams at everyone around her, but soon rolls into moments of silence, contemplation, and love.
Plummer becomes Tolstoy, portraying Tolstoy’s confusion at the world around him, a confusion that many people face as they draw to their final years. Plummer invites viewers into the world of his character and leaves them thinking.
Giamatti’s character resembles many of his past roles in films like The Illusionist, but he continues to play the manipulative, yet relatable character with perfection, a character with an agenda, yet simultaneously shaped by the world around him.
McAvoy continues to look as good as ever. Perhaps that’s why a movie that could have made its themes just as clear without explicit sex scenes had to go for an R rating. The two scenes that include nudity contribute to the clashing definitions of love presented in the film, but the extreme extent to which the scenes are portrayed take an unnecessary road that may ruin the movie for some viewers.
The thought-provoking material presented, however, does not fail to move the viewer, even with its Communist background. And with such strong actors as Mirren, Plummer, Giammati and McAvoy, to carry the film’s themes, The Last Station cannot fail to captivate.