"The Last Station" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

3/21/2010 Posted by Admin

“The Last Station”

DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

Written and directed by Michael Hoffman, 112 minutes, rated R.

By Christopher Smith

For those who already have glanced down at the grade for this film, let’s just acknowledge the elephant in the room and be done with it.

Yes, Helen Mirren was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress as Sofya Tolstaya in Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station,” and true, Christopher Plummer joined her by receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor as the Russian novelist Tolstoy himself. So, let’s just offer them a polite round of applause--and then remember that each lost.

There’s a reason.

The film, which Hoffman based on his own script, is a hullaballoo of histrionics, so much so that in one scene, Mirren becomes a human wrecking ball so wild with rage and frustration, she goes on a plate-smashing frenzy that would cause any fan of the “The Antiques Roadshow” to expire in the aisles. In another scene, she runs pell-mell from their estate, rushes across the grounds shrieking in a white night dress, and heads straight for the pond, in which she eventually finds herself drowning after flopping hard on the deck and twisting into the drink.

Gird your loins, people, because this movie is about those wacky Tolstoys and the movement of Tolstoyanism, which is supposed to be about reducing all religions to their common element of love. In the movement, sex isn’t allowed for the Tolstoyan, but you wouldn’t know it here--many of the characters are doing it, have done it or like to talk about it. A lot. And the mouths on these people? Sometimes, if you close your eyes, you’d swear you were watching “Precious.”

There isn’t a moment in this movie that isn’t enjoyable, but not always in the serious-minded way Hoffman intended. When Tolstoy and Sofya come off an argument, for instance, and start clucking like birds and then crowing like roosters, the intent is meant to reflect a mix of passion and comedy, but be forewarned. You might want to toss a a bit of bird seed their way because what’s unfolding onscreen is pure camp.

And don’t even get me started on Paul Giamatti, whose Vladimir Chertkov waxes and twirls his mustache so often, it’s no wonder Sofya hates him if only because he’s an evil caricature. He’s the villain trying to get Tolstoy to change his will and sign off his rights to his literary works so Vladimir can hand them over to Mother Russia. Since Sofya is having none of that, she bares her teeth, hisses like a she-devil, and rises up against him in what history already tells us is a losing battle.

Other moments do resonate as the drama Hoffman was aiming for. The film is viewed mostly through the eyes of Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy in a fine performance), a 23-year-old virgin who gets caught up in the movement. Chertkov offers him the opportunity to be Tolstoy’s secretary, which makes him cry, but off he goes to live with the Tolstoys with the intent of writing everything down. Why? Because Chertkov wants to undo Sofya by chronicling her madness. Trouble is, Sofya is onto him. Complicating matters more, Valentin meets the saucy Masha (Kerry Condon), a horny lass who eschews the tenants of Tolstoyanism and hops on poor Valentin the first chance she gets.

Is this the story Tolstoy fans deserved? Hardly. But in its way, there always is something fun about watching a talented cast miss its mark while as they shoot for the moon--or, in this case, the next level of enlightenment. There are moments in this movie when you want to shield your eyes, but good luck with that.

Grade: C+

View the trailer for "The Last Station" below. What are your thoughts?

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