The Last Station Reviews

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Super Reviewer
August 26, 2013
I was really impressed by this film....not only by the way this story from history was told, but by the actors as well. Christopher Plummer was absolutely wonderful in the role of Tolstoy. Helen Mirren is a fantastic actress, and is terrific as Tolstoy's wife of many years.. James McAvoy was great as Tolstoy's assistant. All in all a really well done film, with a wonderful lesson in Russian history.
Super Reviewer
December 24, 2011
Any chance to see Helen Mirren work is worth the price of admission. "The Last Station" is a tour de force for Miren in full bloom - a force of nature that can't be denied, elevating what would have been a rather pedestrian and unsatisfactory period piece to moments of brilliance.

It's not that her co-stars Christopher Plummer (as Tolstoy), and Paul Giamatti (as the leader behind the "Tolstoy movement") don't hold their own, and really, the acting in this film is more than passable, but make no mistake, this is Mirren's film.

Mirren plays the countess, married for over 40 years to "the great man" Tolstoy, a national icon, who in his senior years begins ruminating on the class system and entitlement of the rich. With guidance from Giamatti he begins a movement that rejects religion as well as the accumulation of wealth - to the point where he wants to change his will, thereby giving the complete rights of his "intellectual property" - in other words royalties from his novels - to "the people", something that goes against the grain with the countess, who not only wants to look after the well being of their children and grand children, but is irked by not being recognized for helping Tolstoy write the books to begin with.

So there you have the gist of the story. Giamatti is the snake, trying to convince Tolstoy to "do the right thing" and donate his works to the people (and thus further solidifying his own position as the head of Tolstoyism - an odd and evolving manifesto that no-one really seems to have a firm grasp of). He is of course at loggerheads with Mirren, who is alternately compliant to her husband, but demanding of his attention. She rants, raves, cajoles, entreats, flirts - whatever is necessary to get Tolstoy's attention and feel his love.

You could have a tight little story here, but the film shoots at something larger, including the story of a young "secretary", brought in by Giamatti to spy on the countess, while aiding Tolstoy in getting his affairs in order. The young man lives in a commune set up on the far reaches of Tolstoy's estate, and there he falls for the commune school teacher. I suppose that this affair is supposed to contrast the "old love" that Tolstoy and the Countess have for one another with the new, fresh love of the secretary and teacher - but, like so much in the film, seems empty and gratuitous.

At the core, the film's real failure comes at the beginning and the end. On the front end you have a quote from Tolstoy that everything he has written comes from his knowledge of love. Nice quote, but really, it's just a sound byte and you can believe it if you care to... but what comes next is really galling - the film proclaims, in large lettering, that Tolstoy was the greatest novelist ever. Ok, by whose standards, and really, how can you quantify "greatness" in an art form? That bit alone took me a lot to get past - and Mirren does a great job of making me forget it, until the ending hits you like a melodramatic ton of bricks. Again, Mirren does a great job with what she's given here, but the tag with the reuniting of the secretary and the school teacher seemed so.... tidy (and unnecessary).

Another little scab I'd like to pick at - why is it that virtually every period piece requires a shot of a steam train bustling through an idyllic countryside? I swear I've seen virtually the same shot in at least ten films (and I'm not talking about the necessary train ride that gives the film its title here - the "money" shot comes early in the film).

In actuality, this film comes off more as a theatrical play - and perhaps would be better suited to the boards, where it becomes all about performance (something this has in spades), rather than content.
Super Reviewer
March 2, 2010
Intoxicating. Infuriating. Impossible. Love.

This movie is good and has some important significance on the life of Leo Tolstoy. Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer and James McAvoy all gave truly really good performances. I don't rate it so high because it's not really my type of movie and to be sincere it bored me a little but i'm sure this is one great film which many enjoyed.

In 1910, acclaimed Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, in the later stage of his life, works rather than a writer but as the leader of the Tolstoyan Movement, whose basic tenets are brotherly love and world peace through pacifism, and a denouncement of material wealth and physical love. His chief follower is Vladimir Chertkov, who does whatever he requires to advance the cause. Chertkov hires a young man named Valentin Bulgakov to be Tolstoy's personal secretary in carrying out this work. Once ensconced in the life on the estate where much of the work is taking place, Bulgakov quickly learns that many there take from the movement only what he/she wants/believes. Also chief amongst the movement's wants is the deeding of all Tolstoy's writings to the people so that after his death it will become public domain. Tolstoy's wife, the Countess Sofya Andreevna Tolstoy, believes that her husband's writings are rightfully hers after he passes, as she wants and believes she deserves the monetary benefits derived from such. This places a strain between those in the movement, especially Chertov and the Tolstoy's daughter Sasha, and the Countess. Bulgatov acts as the mediator between the parties, he who feels he needs to do what is truly in Tolstoy's heart regardless of what Tolstoy may say or do.
Super Reviewer
March 13, 2011
Great performances by all.
The Gandiman
Super Reviewer
½ September 27, 2010
While "The Last Station" chronicles the final year of Tolstoy's life, it is the Helen Mirren show and boy what a show it is. Mirren's performance is acting at its finest and every time she's on the screen the film shines.

But Mirren's performance poses a problem for "Station" as well. Because she's so good, everything else in this film is incidental and not as compelling as it should be. Christopher Plummer and James McAvoy (one of the most underrated talents of this generation) are magnificent actors but they are so overshadowed by Mirren that the moments when she's not on screen become the equivalent of a commercial break.

Watch "Station" to witness a master actress at her best ... everything else falls short.
Super Reviewer
February 9, 2010
Cast: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, Anne-Marie Duff, Paul Giamatti, Kerry Condon, Patrick Kennedy, John Sessions

Director: Michael Hoffman

Summary: Set during the last year of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy's life, this biopic explores the fractious relationship between Tolstoy (Oscar nominee Christopher Plummer) and his wife (Oscar nominee Helen Mirren), as he embraces a life of asceticism. Paul Giamatti co-stars as impassioned Tolstoy devotee Vladimir Chertkov, with James McAvoy playing the aging writer's assistant, Valentin, who is caught in the middle of various struggles.

My Thoughts: "Helen Mirren has to be one of the best actresses out there. She gives a brilliant performance along with Christopher Plummer. This might be the best acting I have seen from James McAvoy. The story is moving, funny, sad, and full of love. Paul Giamatti's character is easily one to hate. He played it very well. Everyone in this film was brilliant. Christopher Plummer is superb as Leo Tolstoy who on the one hand enjoys who he is, but also feels guilty and thinks he can be better. Helen Mirren is brilliant as his wife the countess, who doesn't want her husband giving away everything that they have worked for together, their entire lives. It is a power struggle between the countess and Vladimir Chertkov over Tolstoy's work. Just a really fascinating film. I enjoyed it a lot."
Super Reviewer
November 19, 2009
Damn, I loved this movie. It's at once bubbly and intoxicating, but at the same time incredibly heartbreaking. It's not a real movie. at all. But, neither does it try to be. The characters and situations are all the more beloved because we cannot totally believe them, totally relate to or understand the circumstance. The characters are drawn in absolutes, but never really feel flat. They are all fasinating, most are even easy enough to love, but they are not complex in a human sense. They all at once completely focused, but at the same time they have the complexity needed to be confincing and understood. The acting is obviously great. Everyone has already mentioned that fact, but really. Everyone is fantastic. I've always liked James McAvoy, but this is the first time his acting itself has really stood out as being incredible. The Last Station is a relentlessly optimistic film, and the characters are as well. Which one obvious exception, these are all "nicer" people than the average person. It is even varied types of selflessness that pit them against one other. Everyone feels they know what it best for everyone else, essentially causing all the strife in the film. Love can take many forms, but who is to say which is the best? We see family love, romantic love, pacifism, etc, each takes a different flavor, but each is based on one thing: Love. And what is the antidote to this tragedy? Rules, boundaries, legalism. As Mash says to Valentin "You forgot the rules and remembered love." It is true sincerity that matters, the actions are irrelevant. Love might cause one to give everything to better society or it might cause one to gather up a great inheritance. Neither action is better or worse than the other on it's own. We do not cherish and love people because of what they did FOR us, but because of what drove them to those actions.
Super Reviewer
½ March 7, 2010
Outstanding performances from Christopher Plummer and especially Helen Mirren highlight this tale of Tolstoy's last days. Helen gets all the showy bits but balances them with scenes of tenderness and levity. The other performances are fine but not remarkable. The story is interesting enough but it will help if you have some familiarity with Tolstoy's life and ideals. There's also some beautiful settings and visuals.
Super Reviewer
March 3, 2010
It irks me that a film about perhaps the greatest Russian writer consists of a non-Russian cast, speaking with British accents. Yes, yes, the film was made for an English-speaking audience, but the high class accent just seems so incongruous for the count who prefers peasant clothes.

I also wasn't terribly impressed with my golden boy, James McAvoy. He's starting to rely on tricks - rubbing his five o'clock shadow to seem pensive or distraught; smiling while shyly looking down and away to make himself more dreamy. Well, it's not working on me, mister!

The bitter and complicated love story is nice, but there isn't much conflict throughout the rest of the film. They're all essentially good people; they just want what they think is best, and no one really wins or loses.
Super Reviewer
February 28, 2010
the body's not cold, hell, the body's not even dead yet, but the battle for control of the russian literary great's legacy gets all hot and nasty. a well directed classy piece of work, nobody's the bad guy, nobody's the good guy, everybody's just fighting for "what's right". the difference between what we want and what's real gets explored herein pretty thoroughly, and everyone delivers full court pressure. helen mirren wants the gold the most. loved this.
Super Reviewer
February 5, 2010
Boring account of people fighting over the rights to Leo Tolstoy's literary legacy during his final year. On the one side we have his wife, Sofya, who feels they should be bequeathed to his family. On the other, we're given Vladimir Chertkova, a staunch disciple of the author's beliefs, who wants them as the property of the Russian people. Somewhere in the middle is Valentin Bulgakov, a naive private secretary. What should have been a fascinating subject, namely a biography of Leo Tolstoy, instead becomes a tedious discussion of how the copyrights of his novels should be entrusted. Although none of the characters are particularly interesting, director Michael Hoffman has unwisely made Valentin the focus of his film. Regrettably his spiritual awakening at Tolstoy's vast country estate, is the real subject of this bland coming of age drama.
Super Reviewer
½ April 29, 2011
Reminiscent of a Chekhov play, "The Last Station" is a witty and endearing exploration of the perils of fame and hero worship.(That having been said, can I still worship Helen Mirren? Because she does some tremendous work here.) Case in point, Leo Tolstoy(Christopher Plummer, not bad himself). This is 1910, towards the end of a long and fruitful writing career with the fight having just started for his legacy. In one corner is Vladimir Chertkov(Paul Giamatti), high priest of the Tolstoyans, a movement in favor of peace and sharing the wealth(But apparently not birth control.), currently under house arrest in Moscow.(It speaks to the high regard the people hold Tolstoy in, that the Csarist authorities leave him alone.) He wants Tolstoy to give any future royalties to the people and sends Valentin(James McAvoy) in his stead as Tolstoy's new secretary, asking him to write everything down for posterity. Valentin is incredibly nervous at meeting his hero but finds an incredibly down to earth man who talks about sex a lot which is a subject Valentin is totally lacking experience in. At least, Masha(Kerry Condon) can help him with chopping wood. Sofya(Helen Mirren), Tolstoy's long suffering wife, could have told him that he was no saint, as she seeks to reclaim the man she loves, and now has to share with so many, not to mention keep the royalties in the family.
Super Reviewer
½ January 26, 2010
Marketed like a wacky Russian comedy, this is more of a sad-and-funny romance, and probably a minor one at that, but there's Mirren, Plummer and McAvoy doing top-notch work, and that's enough for me. A look at the (supposed) last days of Tolstoy, his very dramatic wife and protege Bolgakov, there's a slightly schizophrenic feeling to the thing; sometimes played-to-the-bone sweet and sometims on-the-sleeve quirk. Ultimately it doesn't completely work. But I'll take 60/40 with these actors any day of the week.
Super Reviewer
½ January 17, 2010
I wasn't prepared to like this film - from the trailer, it seemed like one of those upper-crusty corset dramas with a bawdy, tittering quality that typically only appeals to Merchant Ivory lovers the world over. This film, however, had 4 aces in the hole - a beautiful score, a fantastically bold performance by Helen Mirren, another chameleon-like role for the great Christopher Plummer, and James McAvoy in one raw moment after another. This man knows how to turn unabashed tearful joy into true cinematic magic. The scene in which he is overcome by Tolstoy asking about HIM is a master class in reactive acting. Paul Giamatti, Anne-Marie Duff and Kerry Condon also do nice work here in a film about the last days of Tolstoy and the fight over his estate. It's an interesting microcosmic look at the differences between communism and capitalism, puritanism vs. lust, free and crazy expression vs. stoicism. I wasn't blown away, as the film had a rather meandering pace (some would say deadly boring), but it has a sense of humor and is visually evocative of its time (Germany subs for Russia here with wonderfully misty countrysides and old world train stations). Michael Hoffman sure has had a diverse career (from the pretentious but visually stunning PROMISED LAND to the hilarious SOAPDISH) and he can be proud of this film too.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
December 7, 2011
He's an 81 year old Canadian, and Christopher Plummer is still knockin' out accents like nobody's business, and meanwhile, me and my young self can't stretch too far without my leg locking up. Hey, Chris Plummer is so awesome, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that he was absorbing our lifeforce with his movies. Yeah, I don't talking about either; I only watched this for James McAvoy, because, come on, it's James McAvoy. He made the story of Idi Amin a charming and delightful tale... before they started torturing and mutilating people. As impossible as it is to not want to hang out with good ol' Jimmy, his stories get pretty dark, so you're going want to bail before Helen Mirren busts out that gun we saw in the rather misleading trailer, because as we all learned from "Red", you do not want to get in the sights of Helen Mirren when she has a gun, or else you'll end up going head-to-head against some laser-shooting hamster vampires she released by shooting the lock off of a safe filled with them, or at least that's where I think "Red" goes, because although I haven't really seen the film, the moment you bring in Ernest Borgnine and really expect us to believe that he really is actually still alive and in decent shape, then you've thrown logic completely out of the window. Wow, I'm suppose to be talking about a film about the final days of a legendary Russian novelist, and within five sentences, I've already discussed youth absorbtion, laser-shooting hamster vampires and Ernest Borgnine's still being alive an implausibility. Well kids, don't get too excited, because I'm only making this stuff up to make this film sound more exciting.

Now, the film isn't a snoozefest, or maybe not after seeing as boring as "Melancholia". Still, the film is often rather slow and somewhat quiet, maybe not to a tedious extent, but certainly to an uninteresting extent. Considering its Oscar Bait status, it should come as no surprise that this film will often fail at holding your attention, but not very unengaging Oscar Bait films will be this underdeveloped or rushed in storytelling. Now, the film isn't entirely devoid of development, nor is its storytelling at the poor level of, say, "Heavenly Creatures", where so much is covered so speedily and messily that by the time you have any resemblence of investment in anything going on, it's right on next to the other one-dimensional, tediously slowly paced and poorly written segment of the story that's riddled with despicable characters. Oh sorry, I got caught up in critisizing that overrated pile of garbage; but anyways, the point is that this film is rather rushed and stands to be more developed, making lack of engagement even worse. Still, for every moment you slip out on the film, you can always rely on another good clean shot of charm to pull you back in and keep the film going. However, outside of fine production designs, decent dialogue and some pretty darn high emotional resonance towards the end, there's not much to the film, but what is consistently great and really carries this film through and through are, of course, the performers.

James McAvoy is as boomingly charming of a force as he usually is, but as much as I've only been praising him for his charisma, - man - the guy can act like nobody's business. Before the film even hits the fourteen minute mark, he blows you away when he first meets Tolstoy, the most celebrated novelist in the world at that time, and finds that he is only interested in the story behind his new employee and long-time fan; and with solid emotional work and a powerful atmosphere, McAvoy nails that sensation of meeting such a respectable figure and realizing just how good of a person they are. It's "The Last King of Scotland" all over again, where everyone's losing it over McAvoy's castmates, not realizing that the real star is McAvoy himself, and likfe "The Last King of Scotland", McAvoy carries his role as lead and avatar for the audience effortlessly with charisma and presence carrying him the whole way through. However, also like "The Last King of Scotland", McAvoy is not the only great performance in this film, and no matter how much you're drawn back to the screen whenever McAvoy occupies it, just about all of the same praise can be given to Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren. As I said earlier, Plummer is still killing those accents dead, but that's not the only thing about Leo Tolstoy that Plummer nails, as he manages to play up every ounce of charm, every ounce of emotion and every ounce of layer to his role that he ultimately transforms into the legend, and watching Plummer give this solid portrayal of Tolstoy is an experience in it of itself. The same, if not a little bit more can be said about Helen Mirren, who accomplishes the insanely difficult task of taking a potentally unlikable character and summoning true, powerful compellingness and incite into her side of the story; and as Sophya Tolstaya's story unravels you find yourself question what's really going on and who's really the bad guy in all of this with her stellar emoting that's matched only by her stellar atmosphere. There's not a single performance that's bad, or even below excellent in this film, and watching these incredible actors tell this not-always-captivating story and carry it to many highs in charm, as well as extremely high emotional resonance in the later acts make the film worth watching.

At the end of the day, the train that is this film barrels bumpily along, leaving lulls of engagement behind it on its path, but the tracks stay strongly intact, held together by fine production and charm, but most of all, the incredible lead performances that ultimately leave "The Last Station" to stand as a charming, when not touching, though consistently fascinating account on the final days of the legendary Leo Tolstoy. Okay, train puns aside, this thing barely has anything to do with a train. I mean, a big key theme towards the end of the film has to do with trains, but really, come on Jay Parini; you couldn't have come up with anything better than that?

3/5 - Good
Super Reviewer
February 3, 2010
With a sigh I resigned myself to another period piece and this one on Tolstoy of all folks. Haven't been dying for the biopic I'm afraid. Thanks to Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer and Paul Giamatti however, this tale is actually enjoyable. Good for a stage adaptation someday.
Super Reviewer
May 7, 2010
Michael Hoffman poetic and love struck story of the Leo Tolstoy's final year of life (1910) and his household roller coaster of emotion is a movie all of us should see!

Tolstoy's novels, "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina," had made him the most famous writer of his day in the world, but inside their home, another story, of his wife, Sofya, trying to prevent him from signing the copyrights to his works over to his peace movement, the Tolstoyans, which he had founded with the support of close friend Vladimir Chertkov, is consyming everyone involved... even the cinema audience...

A movie about love, control, ideals, greed - brought to life by a cast that makes the fire and passion and sadness very real.

Helen Mirren, as a woman with passion, after 48 years of marriage and 13 children, 8 of whom survived, feels she is being shunted aside for a movement she thinks is a fairy tale. The passive resistance and abandonment of property rights that Tolstoy (real star performance by Christopher Plummer) has adopted is something she would not allow when her property is on the agenda. She despises the "parasite" Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), who, she thinks, has flattered and cajoled Tolstoy into his way of thinking. In the middle of those accusations, Chertkov sends Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), young honest believer in Tolstoy's vallues, to become Tolstoy's private secretary. But one of the ideas -celibacy thing becomes increasingly difficult to embrace once Valentin embraced Masha (Kerry Condon), his first real love.

At the end of this wonderfully worm and touching movie -during "The Last Station's" closing credits, you will see the real people who are portrayed in the movie, as a special treat! Watch it if you can!
Super Reviewer
April 7, 2011
Vladimir Chertkov: "If I had a wife like you, I would have blown my brains out or gone to America"

Aspiring writer Valetine Bulgakov (James McAvoy) is hired by Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) to work for his idol, literary giant, Leo Tolstoy (played by Christopher Plummer who while fragile is still active and under the constant watch of his physician) at his country estate In addition to transcribing Tolstoy's thoughts, Valetine is also ordered to surreptitiously record everything that Tolstoy's passionate and volatile wife has to say about her idealistic husband's controversial will, which will make his work public domain upon his death, but this would also mean the loss of their family's inheritance and the security of their children.

Chertkov played by Paul Giamatti superbly is passionate to get Tolstoy to leave his works and legacy to the Russian people. Meanwhile, Tolstoy's wife Sofya, played by Helen Mirren is just as passionate to stop Tolstoy from robbing their children of their inheritance. The conflict between Sofya and Chertkov has no love lost, they despise and distrust each other as much as two people can.

The story itself, is mediated by James McAvoy's Valentin Bulgakov, who finds himself caught in the middle, is admirably believable as a young idealist who joins Tolstoy's circle only to discover that the master Tolstoy himself does not live by his own philosophy, which is ironic and that his immediate social environment is rife with antagonism and intrigue. He is also seduced by a beautiful girl who finds it difficult to abide by the master's austere ideals of sexual abstinence.

On paper there doesn't seem much to work up a sweat about but this remains an engrossing film because Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer absolutely carry the movie with their portrayals of the Tolstoys. Their scenes together are both explosive and romantic. The final scenes are very touching. It is a case where action speaks louder than words and there is good backup from a strong supporting cast.
Super Reviewer
November 21, 2010
I don't understand why filmmakers feel the need to fill historical biopics with so much unnecessary melodrama.
Super Reviewer
August 24, 2010
This didn't set my world on fire, but I guess it was a solid enough drama. The last days of Tolstoy, with Christopher Plummer as the good man himself, and Helen Mirren outstanding as the too-in-love wife who has to live with her saintly novelist' husband's socialism in action, and the frustration, I expect the rest of us would have too if we saw our stuff being given away. .
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