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REVIEW: The Last Station

Helen Mirren deserves her Oscar nomination

The Last Station.
Courtesy photo

Remember that first classic novel you were forced to read in high school that you actually liked?

You’re so used to being told what book report you have to do, and one day, you’re told to read Lord of the Flies, and you love it. It’s at that point in your life that you stop hating the idea of reading.

That analogy works on a few levels because War and Peace is a book that I always cringed at the thought of reading. It’s just so long and, as a kid -- hey, no pictures in a war book? There’s no fighting in the War Room, but surely there can be a photo or two in a war book.

As a teenager, you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to a period piece. But you date a woman who makes you watch a Merchant-Ivory picture, and you find they’re not half bad.

When I saw La Vie En Rose a few years ago, I found that bio-pics can be a lot more enjoyable when you know nothing about the person featured.

Since I hadn’t read War and Peace, or any Tolstoy for that matter, it was interesting to see the last year of his life.

I was afraid Christopher Plummer, who I had grown up seeing in films playing the bad guy, would have such a distinct voice it would be distracting. With the long beard and great acting, I totally bought into the character.

Helen Mirren, as his wife, deserved her Oscar nomination. I wouldn’t have had a problem with Plummer getting the Oscar nod, except for the fact that I feel a few other performances this year didn’t get nominations that deserve it over him.

Mirren does wonderfully as Sofya Tolstoy, bringing a lot of levels to the character. She reminded me of a modern wife to a famous celebrity. She was concerned about the money and rights to her husband's writing.

I’m guessing Paul Giamatti’s character views her the way The Beatles fans (and actual Beatles) view Yoko Ono. But Yoko wasn’t in the picture for as long, just near the end of The Beatles and Lennon’s life. Sofya bore 13 children and had to listen to the constant stories of Tolstoy’s “whoring around.” And she started to get a bit tired of his vegetarian, pacifist ways…and the many followers who did the same.

And just like The Beatles having an influence on bands today, Tolstoy influenced people many years later. That list would include Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

Giamatti plays that character he does so well, the one that clearly has other motives. The bits with him always waxing or playing with his handlebar mustache got old quick. But you have to love the fact that creepy-looking guys like him, such as Steve Buscemi and Philip Seymour Hoffman, can get such juicy roles.

James McAvoy does an adequate job as a guy hired to be Tolstoy’s secretary and quickly becoming the envy of everyone (and not because he sleeps with the prettiest woman in the commune).

The romance he has adds nicely to this story, much the way the second romance did in The English Patient (a much better film).

One of my favorite scenes in the film has McAvoy tearing up as his idol asks about the pieces he’s writing and working on.

This movie falls somewhere in the middle, if you grade on a curve dealing only with period pieces. Something about this chapter of Tolstoy’s life, seems like it could’ve been told much more interesting than it was.

The person I was with asked why they were all speaking English, and we had that whole conversation about how movies are made that way because so many folks hate subtitles. I was more bothered with the way the dialogue didn’t seem to make me feel it was 1910.

I thought about how book snobs love to point out “the book was better than the movie.” I’m not sure how many of the audience members will have read the novel by Jay Parini that this was based on. Or War and Peace.

I am sure that some of this picture will bore audiences - and it could’ve used a bit more drama - but watching the beautiful Helen Mirren on screen, still looking ravishing at age 64…she’s giving Meryl Streep a run for her money in the acting world, and Sophia Loren in the looks department. That makes the boring elements of the script not seem as bad.