The Last Station (15)
Time Out rating:
<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5Rate this
Time Out says
Tue Feb 16 2010Russia, 1910. In his old age, Leo Tolstoy has become so famous worldwide that the merest hint he’s about to pop his clogs sends newsreel cameras gathering in anticipation. The real story though, as this slightly fusty drama elaborates, is unfolding inside the Tolstoy household, where the octogenerian writer (Christopher Plummer, authentically beardy) finds himself in the centre of a dispute over the valuable publishing rights to ‘War and Peace’. The Tolstoyan political movement – an organisation espousing his ideas on communal property to combat social injustice – sense a major funding opportunity should Tolstoy sign his best-known book over to their leader Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), yet Tolstoy’s aristocratic wife Sofya (Helen Mirren), having delivered him 13 children, is determined to fight her corner to the bitter end.
Idealism versus family ties makes for a potentially juicy set-to, yet it’s the historical detail which keeps this adaptation of Jay Parini’s novel relatively intriguing, rather than merely stodgy. Writer-director Michael Hoffman is all reverence towards Tolstoy himself, but curiously supercilious towards the beliefs of the Tolstoyan movement, thus undermining the key subplot (eager young acolyte James McAvoy gets his dream job as the great man’s secretary, but must also spy on him) and unfairly loading the central conflict in favour of ferocious spouse Mirren. Her impressively projected performance becomes the dominating factor, causing Plummer to overdo it, and sidelining both the earnestly wet McAvoy and moustache-twirling Giamatti. Engaging performers all, but the movie’s superficial flummery is slightly exasperating when the true-life events would have provided an even richer palette of ideas.
Author: Trevor Johnston