Film Club: The Last Station
The Last Days of Tolstoy’s Life
Friday, February 5, 2010
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
Critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks discuss "The Last Station" on the KPBS Film Club with Maureen Cavanaugh.
On this month's edition of the Film Club, we discussed "The Last Station" (opening February 5 at Landmark's La Jolla Cinemas), which just garnered acting nominations for Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. You can listen to our discussion.
Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station, based on Jay Parini’s novel, chronicles the last days of Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s life. Central to the story is the battle that flares up between Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren) and the author’s chief disciple, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti). Toward the end of his life, Tolstoy back-burnered his literary work and focused on promoting a utopian philosophy. But in Hoffman’s hands Tolstoy’s work and legacy are given far less attention that his tumultuous private life. So “The Last Station” plays more like an Access Hollywood expose than a Frontline investigation. This means that we end up with a lot of screaming and emotional outbursts than on ideas and substance. Tolstoy’s philosophy is not something that is ever seriously discussed or explored because the film would rather focus on shrill arguments between Sofya and Chertkov over the not-quite-dead-yet Tolstoy’s legacy and who has legal rights to it.
The film is not without its pleasures, though. Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer have a grand ole time locking horns like some aging but not tiring Beatrice and Benedick or Kate and Petruchio. But you get the feeling that they are overacting to compensate for the weak script and unfocused direction. Mirren’ performance even takes on comic overtones as Sofya employs every emotional manipulation she can to try and hold on to her husband.
“The Last Station” (rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity) is well-acted and competently crafted but it never manages to be truly compelling because Hoffman doesn’t display any passion for his material. He doesn’t seem much interested in Tolstoy’s work or ideology but rather in trying to turn his last days into a tabloid headline of a film.
Companion viewing: “The Queen,” “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” “Celeste,” “Anna Karenina,” “War and Peace”
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