Make sure you stop at ‘The Last Station’

The Last Station (2010)

Directed by Michael Hoffman

9/10  R

In 2010, “The Last Station” kindled in my heart a love of film. I had loved watching movies before then, sure, but after seeing this one I realized that movies were going to be an important part of my life. A year later I started this blog.

Based on the novel by Jay Parini, “The Last Station” chronicles the last days of the early 20th-century Russian novelist and pacifist Leo Tolstoy. With his confidante Chertkov (a delightful, though overshadowed, Paul Giamatti) convincing him to hand the right to his works over to the Russian people, and his wife Sofya (Helen Mirren) trying to keep the works in the family, Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) is at odds. A live-in assistant, Valentin (James McAvoy), is called in to help the famed writer in his remaining days, but when he begins to empathize with Sofya, his loyalty is called into question.

Christopher Plummer and James McAvoy in The Last Station (2009)

With Plummer and Mirren both gathering S.A.G., Golden Globe, and Academy Award nominations for their roles, it should come as no surprise that their performances are remarkable works of art. Helen Mirren’s powerful, captivating, tour de force performance stands as a testament to her supreme acting ability. Her emotional command insists that you grant her your full attention, and she doesn’t let you regret it. And her unbelievable chemistry with Christopher Plummer is as genuine as any I have ever seen on screen before. But to say that no one could hold a candle to her performance would be a dishonor to Plummer. His flawless performance (Oscar got it right by awarding Christoph Waltz for “Inglorious Basterds,” though) changed my perception of the acting legend by encapsulating Tolstoy’s persona—in essence, becoming his character (like any great actor can).

Paul Giamatti and James McAvoy in The Last Station (2009)

It could be said that James McAvoy is the next Christopher Plummer. His mastery of the 21st-century historical drama (“Atonement” two years prior and “The Conspirator” two years later) puts him in a class of his own. In “The Last Station,” McAvoy picks up on every nuance of his character (including a delightful nervous sneeze) to round out an incredible ensemble trio. The film’s only scene of sexuality—between McAvoy and Kerry Condon—isn’t nudity for the sake of nudity, but believable and passionate love-making. As Masha, Valentin’s new love, Condon suggests, “We touched each other…and something passed between us—something real.” Something real, indeed. In fact, it was the only reason the film was rated R—speaking to writer/director Michael Harris’s true intentions, not to make money but to make cinema. Good for him; great for us.

Helen Mirren in The Last Station (2009)

Michael Harris captures raw, undeniable human emotion in each of his main characters, but it’s his script that helps catapult this film to the top of the heap. Poetic, beautiful, and heart-felt, this screenplay will undoubtedly teach you more about yourself than it will about Tolstoy. It’s filled with profound gems on love and lust, family and goodwill. The lighting and cinematography make this a visual pleasure to see, and the film’s score, brimming with romantic idealism and haunting drama (yes, at the same time!) is its complement.

“The Last Station” is a true cinematic masterpiece that made me fall in love with cinema in a way I hadn’t before. I have no doubt that you’ll love it just as I have.

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