The Last Station (M)

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Review byMatthew Turner18/02/2010

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 113 mins

The Last Station is beautifully shot and features terrific performances from all four leads but it's also strangely dull in places and never quite delivers the required emotional punch.

What's it all about?
Directed by Michael Hoffman, The Last Station is based on the novel by Jay Parini and stars James McAvoy as Valentin Bulgakov, the newly appointed secretary to the novelist Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), who is approaching the end of his life in 1910 Russia. Holed up in a country mansion, Bulgakov is witness to an increasingly bitter conflict between Tolstoy's loyal disciple Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), who wants Tolstoy to bequeath the rights to his work to the people, and his devoted wife Sofya (Helen Mirren), who despises Chertkov and can't understand why her husband would want to effectively disinherit his family.

Though initially acting as a de facto spy for Chertkov, Bulgakov becomes increasingly sympathetic to Sofya as he witnesses her relationship with Tolstoy at first hand. At the same time, Bulgakov finds his notions of the importance of celibacy challenged when he falls in love with beautiful, headstrong teacher Masha (Kerry Condon).

The Good
The Last Station is worth seeing for its performances alone. Helen Mirren is terrific as Sofya, delivering a performance that has deservedly landed her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, while Christopher Plummer is superb as Tolstoy, especially in his fiery argument scenes with Mirren. Similarly, Paul Giamatti is excellent as Chertkov, particularly as you're never quite sure whether he's as ruthless and greedy as Sofya says he is or whether he's just passionately committed to his cause.

Faced with three heavyweight performances it would be easy for another actor to get lost but McAvoy more than holds his own, delivering a solid, likeable performance that anchors the film. There's also strong support from Kerry Condon (fondly remembered by Rome fans for her role as Octavia) as Masha and from Anne-Marie Duff (McAvoy's wife) as Tolstoy's daughter, Sasha.

The Bad
The film is also beautifully shot throughout and has a touch of the Merchant-Ivories about it. However, despite several strong scenes, the film is weirdly slow in the first half and somehow never quite delivers the emotional punch you're hoping for.

Worth seeing?
In short, The Last Station isn't quite as emotionally engaging as it ought to be but it's worth seeing for its performances alone.

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Content updated: 25/02/2020 01:38

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