The Last Station
It was these walks with Gandalf that Frodo would miss most.

Theatrical Release Date: 02/05/2010
Director: Michael Hoffman
Cast: James McAvoy, Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, Anne-Marie Duff, Paul Giamatti, Kerry Condon, Patrick Kennedy

Getting much love from the independent film scene is director/screenwriter Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station”. Based on the novel by Jay Parini, the film tells the story of author Leo Tolstoy in his final days, as those around him seek to ensure his legacy will live on and reach as many countrymen and women as possible.

Of course, the film would be dead in the water if a decent actor wasn’t on hand to portray the Russian literary icon and in steps Christopher Plummer. He did a remarkable job of being a bit on the mad side of eccentric and ably pulls off being the father figure of a social movement, as he was made out to be by those looking for regime change in the country at the time.

And from an acting perspective, the film holds up. James McAvoy always seems to pull off the idealist in his roles, Plummer and Helen Mirren create a believable marital relationship and Paul Giamatti is at his mustache twisting again. McAvoy’s entanglement with Kerry Condon made for a decent love story and helped to round out his character but also felt a little like an element of the novel shortened for feature film considerations (as did a number of other interpersonal relationships).

I even credit Hoffman for not worrying about getting his largely British cast to pull off Russian accents of any kind and just going with their natural speaking voices for the most part. While I will always prefer to get actual Russians to play Russians (unless it’s Sean Connery), it’s nice to not worry about people dropping their accents or just being terrible in their attempts (i.e. Mel Gibson in “Edge of Darkness“).

However, the film suffers from being very, very dry. The attempts at adding passion to the production are like afterthoughts and it seemed unclear as to whether the political elements were meant to overshadow the interpersonal ones. Much of that is probably due to the adaptation from novel to screenplay and focusing squarely on one would have kept the focus tighter, rather than attempt the great Russian epic a la “Doctor Zhivago” (which this doesn’t hold a candle to).

So while the political in-infighting was made easy to understand and the film gives a real sense of the cultural importance of Tolstoy to the Russian people, “The Last Station” comes off like a history lesson more than anything else. The performances are good and I could see the merit in showing this in a high school literature class (perhaps with one scene edited for racy content) but the overall result nets a 3 out of 5.