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Genre: Drama
Director: Michael Hoffman
Cast: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti, Anne-Marie Duff, Kerry Condon, Patrick Kennedy, James McAvoy

RunTime: 1 hr 52 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)
Official Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/thelaststation/

Opening Day: 4 March 2010


After almost fifty years of marriage, the Countess Sofya (Helen Mirren), Leo Tolstoy's (Christopher Plummer) devoted wife, passionate lover, muse and secretary—she’s copied out War and Peace six times...by hand!—suddenly finds her entire world turned upside down. In the name of his newly created religion, the great Russian novelist has renounced his noble title, his property and even his family in favor of poverty, vegetarianism and even celibacy. After she's born him thirteen children!

When Sofya then discovers that Tolstoy's trusted disciple, Chertkov (Paul Giamatti)—whom she despises—may have secretly convinced her husband to sign a new will, leaving the rights to his iconic novels to the Russian people rather than his very own family, she is consumed by righteous outrage. This is the last straw. Using every bit of cunning, every trick of seduction in her considerable arsenal, she fights fiercely for what she believes is rightfully hers. The more extreme her behavior becomes, however, the more easily Chertkov is able to persuade Tolstoy of the damage she will do to his glorious legacy.

Into this minefield wanders Tolstoy's worshipful new assistant, the young, gullible Valentin (James McAvoy). In no time, he becomes a pawn, first of the scheming Chertkov and then of the wounded, vengeful Sofya as each plots to undermine the other's gains. Complicating Valentin's life even further is the overwhelming passion he feels for the beautiful, spirited Marsha (Kerry Condon), a free thinking adherent of Tolstoy's new religion whose unconventional attitudes about sex and love both compel and confuse him. Infatuated with Tolstoy's notions of ideal love, but mystified by the Tolstoys' rich and turbulent marriage, Valentin is ill equipped to deal with the complications of love in the real world.

Movie Review:

I recall that I told a friend that this is a senior citizens romance movie from a sweeping glance at the movie poster, and I am indeed further away from the truth. The Last Station chronicles the final tumultuous year of famed Russian writer Leo Tolstoy (played by Christopher Plummer), greatly regarded as one of the greatest novelists in the world and Russia's literary great, whose works such as War and Peace, and Anna Karenina would ring a bell to avid readers out there. With lead actor and actress Oscar nominations under its belt, the film boasts a star studded A-list cast with the likes of Helen Mirren (the female nominee, who plays Tolstoy's wife Sofya with great exasperation), Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy to bring us through an interesting time of a battle for intellectual property rights, romance and being the seed catalyst of the non-violent, pacifist movement.

Christopher Plummer would have his makeup artist to thank for in looking the part, playing his role with a playful glint in his eye, a man in his twilight years being stuck in between his wife's growing concern that he will be giving away all his wealth, and rights of his works to his protege Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) in a call to donate his knowledge for the betterment of society and mankind. With Giamatti at his antagonistic best, you don't have to wonder why Sofya is worried, especially when she has to ensure that her husband has not gone on to do a senile thing, and not have their family's welfare at heart (they do have countless of children to feed). I suppose to any household, this will always be a prickly issue, when the patriarch decides it's time to deal with the family fortune in the most just way of distribution, or to donate everything lock, stock and barrel to benefit beyond family ties.

The film has multiple veneers of narrative which chugged the film along, and there are a couple which I thought made for interesting post-movie discussion. Top on the list, just like how Agora dealt with religious intolerance and the responsibilities and influence leaders hold over their followers, the scenarios presented here were amusing just as they were bordering on the absurd. Tolstoy was elevated to god-like status, and everywhere he went he would have a biographer of sorts take down his every word, which would of course drive Sofya nuts. It's a literal lapping up of every word he spouts as if they're gold, and committed to a notebook for probably publication in the future as greatest sayings or what not. The press lap them up, and followers devour every spoken phrase, and the best bit of it all, is that these spoken ideals may not even be practiced by the person who preached them, which we have seen from time to time until today with false prophets abound to milk material advantages over willing victims, exploiting their gullibility.

Central to the story and the battle of the wills (pardon the pun) between Sofya and Valdimir is James McAvoy's Valentin Bulgakov, a Tolstoy fan who jumped at the chance at being his personal aide when offered a job by Vladimir, but soon discovers that he's caught in between his employer and Sofya, who opens up to him with her grave though valid concerns. It's like an Infernal Affairs bit with a planted mole told to report everything, yet being convinced by the other camp of their plight, yet still having some sliver of loyalty left in him to decide against betraying his master. McAvoy shines in his depiction of this man caught up in the crossfire, as he finds time to romance the nubile Marsha (Kerry Condon), which of course gives rise to an interesting comparison between young, passionate romance and a love that has matured, that becomes challenged by political ideals to live up to.

With wonderful production sets and costumes, The Last Station is pretty to look at without being showy, with its casting to thank for without which this would just be another long drawn out affair that would one amused and perplexed by just how much revolutionary influence Tolstoy wielded in his final days, and the type of family bickering that will ensue if one does not have a proper and relatively fair will left behind to effect the distribution of one's material wealth.

Movie Rating:

(For those interested in the Tolstoyan movement and the tale of the great Russian writer himself)

Review by Stefan Shih


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. Atonement (2007)

. The Queen (2006)

. Finding Neverland (2004)

. The Libertine (2004)

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