"The Last Station"
In the new biopic, “The Last Station, Christopher Plummer plays Leo Tolstoy – the legendary Russian novelist and father of a nonviolent philosophy that begat the likes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. – and makes one point very clear: not every movie out there is an Avatar.
Vladimir Cherkov (Paul Giamatti) is Tolstoy’s biggest fan and manages his affairs, but as the great master nears the end of his life, the goings-on at the Tolstoy estate concern him. When it becomes dangerously clear that Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren) doesn’t share her husband’s altruism, Cherkov hires Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy) as Tolstoy’s new personal secretary and Cherkov’s eyes and ears inside.
At the home, Bulgakov finds a cadre of Tolstoyan groupies who follow the author as if he were a prophet; and he finds Sofya to be every bit as paranoid as rumored, though understandably so. She’s especially worried a plot is afoot to persuade Tolstoy to change his will to gift his copyrights to humanity. Therein lies the rub. Hard as he tries, his wealth, and the conflict it presents, is unavoidable so the author runs-off and in a small train station in Astapovo, with his health failing and a hoard of newspapermen standing-by, Tolstoy’s mortality catches up with him.
From the film, we gather that Leo Tolstoy was idolized in a way that only someone hawking a sports drink could be today. He was a congenial man who reconciled all of the religions as sharing one truth: love. And though this year mark’s the 100th anniversary of the his death, his words have not grown irrelevant: “I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means, except by getting off his back.” That might just as easily be an admonition of Washington today as it was of the Tsarist regime a century ago.
Plummer and Mirren (both are Oscar-nominated performances) are brilliant as the aged couple and in this film, they have no parallels though Paul Giamatti, a perennial favorite, doesn’t disappoint.
As an homage to the greatest novelist of all time (for those keeping score, J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer are #1319 and 2887, respectively), The Last Station is a treat; but like Tolstoy’s great works – “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace,” for instance – this film requires great patience to get through and will likely not appeal to everyone. That’s too bad.
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