The Last Station (2009)

  • Time: 112 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Michael Hoffman
  • Cast: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti


The Countess Sofya, wife and muse to Leo Tolstoy, uses every trick of seduction on her husband’s loyal disciple, whom she believes was the person responsible for Tolstoy signing a new will that leaves his work and property to the Russian people.

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  • This film is a surprise contender for my top ten films of 2009. Delicately shot and beautifully written, The Last Station relates the events that happened during Leo Tolstoy’s last remaining years. Tolstoy is arguably the greatest of all Russian writers.

    His famous literary novels include ‘Anna Karenina’, and ‘War and Peace’, works that masterfully depict 19th century Russian attitudes and lifestyles which have enlightened and continue to be admired by readers since their first publications more than a century ago.

    The Last Station does not focus on Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) per se but his relationship with the Countess and his loyal wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren). Sofya wants the rights and monetary benefits to his works to be passed on to her after he dies.

    But the Tolstoyan Movement as spearheaded by Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) and supported by Tolstoy himself requires his works to become part of the public domain. Thus, the undercurrent of deception runs strong within the Tolstoyan Movement as Chertkov tries to keep Sofya away from her husband.

    Plummer and Mirren give powerful performances and deserve their Oscar nominations. Hoffman’s attention to character development in his screenplay is praiseworthy. In one reconciliation scene midway, the two leads share a delightful, romantic moment in their bedroom, teasing each other by making “bird-calling” sounds and eventually settling into a warm, passionate embrace.

    On hindsight, this scene best portrays the enduring love between the aged couple as it has always been so throughout their long marriage despite their increasingly aggressive disagreements.

    The art direction of The Last Station is another commendable aspect. It brings to life the beauty of the Russian wilderness and the simplicity of the country’s traditional architecture. It is also accompanied by an elegant, classical-like score from Sergei Yevtushenko.

    Not since Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Banishment (2007) has a film so evocatively capture the “Russianness” of its time. The only sore point of the film is that the dialogue is not scripted in its authentic language but the richly-realized characters more than emphasize the need not to.

    Towards the end, a deep sadness envelops the film, providing us with a satisfying tearjerking payoff as we succumb to the inevitability that is history. The Last Station is one of 2009’s few surprises. It is far from a drab affair at first thought and tremendously exceeds expectations, exuding an air of refinedness and understated grace. This should have been a Best Picture nominee at the expense of the wrongly nominated sports drama, The Blind Side (2009).

    GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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